STARRING: Devon Bostick, Julian Richings, Athena Karkanis, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick, Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Joris Jarsky, George Stroumboulopoulos, Wayne Robson

2010, 90 Minutes, Directed by: George A. Romero

The undead have a friend in Survival of the Dead. He is a rancher on a remote island who believes that since the zombies that have started popping up recently were once and, in his view, still are family and friends, they deserve to be spared. Then this champion of undead rights and his men spend the entire second and third act shooting those former loved ones in the head if they don't meet to his idea of evolutionary progress.

With friends like that . . .

Survival of the Dead is writer/director George A. Romero's sixth installment in his flesh-eating, walking dead series. Forty-two years after coming to get Barbara, Romero's zombies have transformed into smart riffing on consumerism, become more intelligent, started a society all their own, and been the subject a documentary.

Here, well, they're just here. They are the subject of a quasi-moral conundrum (To shoot, or not to shoot; that is the question) and the pawns of a family rivalry. They are, sadly and predictably, quite boring.

Romero's premise involves the remote Plum Island off the coast of Delaware, where the O'Flynn and Muldoon clans have been arguing as long as their respective patriarchs Patrick (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick) can remember. The conflict may have begun over how to live on the Island - the O'Flynns retaining their Irish brogues, the Muldoons wearing cowboy hats - but it has changed since the recently dead started coming back to life.

Now, Patrick and his posse hunt down all the zombies on their previously quiet island they can find, and Seamus believe they deserve as much a chance at life as the breathing beings they once were. Patrick is sent into exile, after his daughter (Kathleen Munroe) begs Seamus to spare his life.

"Characters repeatedly forget their guns when they go wandering around in zombie-infested woods . . ."

Some time later, a head-shooting-weary squadron of rogue members of the National Guard, led by Sarge Crocket (Alan Van Spring), return to the Plum Island with Patrick, hoping for nice, serene oasis away from the undead.

Needless to say, the island is not all peaceful relaxation. On this tiny isle populated only with the relatives of two men, hordes of zombies are roaming around the woods, where characters repeatedly tread forgetting their guns for some unknown reason. Muldoon kills the strangers that Patrick has been sending there but captures the risen dead and keeps them in his barn.

His idea is to force them into normal lives again. The local mailman is shackled to a mailbox, repeatedly delivering the same mail over and over again, and a lumberjack makes a poor attempt at chopping wood. Muldoon's ultimate plan is to encourage the zombies to feed upon something other than human flesh. They don't take the bait, even when it's a pig chained in the middle of the pen.

Muldoon's intentions, wildly naïve as they may be, are the movie's sole new idea, and even those are dismissed immediately upon his first appearance after the prologue. Once that zombie doesn't start chewing on the swine, he kills it on the spot, effectively butchering the cause of the O'Flynn/Muldoon rivalry along with it.

Romero has apparently dismissed the notion of exploring any sort of thematic ground with his zombies. There's something here in how two opposing forces will instinctually fight over everything and anything (the movie's final shot vaguely pushes that point), but his generic Western setup and ridiculous plot contrivances - including but not limited to a random revelation of twins (so one can be a zombie, and the other can give her dad guff) - undermine it. The National Guardsmen are only along for the ride, with disposable characterizations befitting eventual zombie fodder.

What's left is the usual zombie shooting gallery. They've always been easy targets, rambling slowly toward their potential victims, and the hunters in this installment are so good at killing zombies that they dispatch them with as much boredom as we have watching them do so. There's no effort on their part, hence no suspense on ours. Romero simply shows a lot of zombie heads exploding in bloody detail and repeats from different angles.

With Survival of the Dead, Romero's zombies have proven to shuffle their course. This must be, needs to be, the end, for the movies have started to too closely resemble their undead stars.

- Mark Dujsik



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