Movie Review: Survival of the Dead

This weekend, I was lucky enough to receive an advance screener of George Romero’s Survival of the Dead which will begin a limited theatrical release later this month, and is available now through a variety of digital channels via Magnet releasing. 

Survival of the Dead is one of Romero’s greatest films, and a vast improvement over Diary of the Dead (which I thought was his weakest).  Romero is at his best when he uses zombies to address ancient, timeless themes– and that’s exactly what he does in Survival.  Having already covered race, authoritarianism, and plutocracy, Romero now wades into the morass of ancient blood-feuds, sexual orientation, and the nature of human hatred itself.

And thank goodness he does, because the results are awesome!

Romero proves once again that, while many can film a zombie apocalypse, he is the master of populating it with interesting characters in thought-provoking situations.  Survival is the story of (fictional?) Plum Island– a small island off the New England coast, exclusively inhabited by two clans of Irish ancestry who have always hated the other.  (As if to emphasize their isolation, the residents of Plum Island have retained their Irish brogues.)   

This guy has dynamite... and a mean Irish accent.

A few days into the zombie apocalypse, a team of tough-but-ultimately-kindhearted mercenaries (with a mysterious teenager in tow) see a YouTube video inviting refugees to seek shelter on Plum Island.  When mercenaries meet warring Irish clans, good things* start to happen…  

There are many memorable and satisfying zombie killings in Survival.  However, I must admit that I am still growing accustomed to seeing CGI blood in a Romero film.  (Sometimes it works seamlessly, and other times it takes me out of the moment.)

When a forbidden romance between members of the warring clans becomes extra-forbidden (when one of the couple is zombified), Romero seems to invoke the 1944 film noir Laura.  (A detective investigating the death of the titular character “falls in love” with Laura, even though she is dead.  But then she reappears, alive.  So which Laura does the detective love?) 

Like Laura... but way more bitey.

Romero also explores themes of sexual orientation for the first time through an aggressively-sexual lesbian mercenary named “Tomboy.”  (Tomboy must constantly rebuff a male suitor– who reminds her how easy it would be for the two of them to get together–  because she just “can’t change” who she’s attracted to.  Later, a character takes a lesson from Tomboy’s resolve and accepts that he “can’t change” the fact that he’s been bitten and will become a zombie.)

Survival also features great villains that you love to hate, a great musical score, and a strong, unerring message delivered in Romero’s inimitable style.  There are many haunting images.  The final shot in Survival is the best final shot I have ever seen in a film.  (Or, okay, maybe it ties with the final shot in This is England, which was also awesome.) 

Yes, there are a couple of hiccups in Survival (the pacing of the climax seems strained, and I already mentioned the awkward CGI blood), but overall, this film is very, very strong. 

So what’re you waiting for?  Go see it!

*(murder, mayhem, zombie killing, etc.)

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5 thoughts on “Movie Review: Survival of the Dead”

  1. WEB SHERIFF
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    Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
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    Hi Scott,

    On behalf of Magnolia Pictures / Magnet and the movie’s producers and director, many thanks for plugging George A. Romero’s “Survival of the Dead” … .. thanks also, on behalf of the distributors and producers, for not posting links to any pirate copies of “Survival of the Dead” on this site… .. and if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, previews, then the official, red-band trailer is available for fans and bloggers to post / host / share etc via the official site at http://www.magnetreleasing.com/survivalofthedead … .. for further details of on-line promotions for this movie and Magnolia / Magnet releases generally, check-out http://www.magpictures.com and their official YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/MagnoliaPictures, along with IGN’s entry for the movie at http://uk.movies.ign.com/objects/142/14286833.html.

    Thanks again for your plug.

    Regards,

    WEB SHERIFF

  2. Interesting to hear such a glowing review, as nearly every other review I’ve read, from fans of the genre and general media alike, have not been so kind. Why do you think it’s not being received well?

  3. Hi Ripcord,

    Perhaps my opinion of Survival is informed by my understanding of Romero’s project to tackle social issues in horror films, but I don’t think that’s really an answer. I don’t think Romero’s plan is to compete with films like Resident Evil. I think he makes a quieter kind of zombie film, not for people with ADD and an MTV attention span. Perhaps some of the “letdown” on the part of those who dislike this film comes from expecting it to be an extension of playing Left 4 Dead II for 3 hours whilst mainlining Mountain Dew. It’s not that kind of experience at all.

    But what’s your opinion?

    1. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I don’t have an opinion on it, but reading your review gives me hope that it won’t be a complete mess. Your point is well taken, but I’ve also read reviews from those who very much enjoyed his previous films (at least Night, Dawn, Day) but thought this one was not even close. I guess I’ll have to see for myself.

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