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.)
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?)
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.)