With George A. Romero’s new zombie flick a little less than a week away, I figured I would post my thoughts. I had the opportunity to watch the film at the home theater (VOD, wave of the future).
Romero is absolutely one of my favorite people. I met him a few years ago and it was one of the single best experiences of my life. I also think his films are ALWAYS fun, even if they lack in other areas. The last two Dead films have definitely fallen into this category and Survival is no different and while it has deficits in many areas, it also excels in a few.
Survival picks up shortly after the events of Diary and follows Sarge and his fellow AWOL troops as they cross the country, ridding the world of “Dead Heads”. After picking up another in their ranks they discover that there is an island community that may be free of the undead.
Sound familiar? That’s because, by and large, it is very, very, familiar. However, I feel that its understood that Romero isn’t out to re-invent the zombie sub-genre. He creates some really memorable material but it still lacks the spirit of earlier entries into the series.
While the story is familiar, it still does a few things right. Romero is still able to build tension and suspense like none other and once again, as in his last two films, none of his characters are safe.
As in all of the previous Dead films, Romero inserts a timely and topical message but this time out it feels a little old fashion and pointless. The idea of founding families feuding and sibling rivalries go back to before Shakespeare so the fact that Romero does the same thing without mixing it up at all feels, well, boring.
In one scene he also manages to recall themes of racial tension that worked in Night and Day but it just feels really inappropriate and un-needed. Yes, we all know there are ignorant red necks who have hate in their hearts. We get it, lets move on.
While we are treated to a truly satisfying (see gory) finale, the last few scenes in the film are mind boggling and Romero completely throws away what would have surely been an exciting new chapter in the Dead mythology. There are also numerous pacing and storytelling problems that could have easily been solved through the use of flashback or fractured timeline.
Characters also present some positive and negative factors. Romero has written some memorable characters with both the main and supporting cast and even bit parts are fun and unforgettable (keep your eyes peeled for the fisherman). Part of the characters appeal is the acting even if it borders on over the top at some points. The negative here is that Romero has written incredibly predictable dialogue and borderline insulting stereotypical roles.
Of course, the big question on everyone’s mind has got to be “How is the zombie mayhem?”. Well within the first 5 minutes of the movie there are two confirmed kills, one of which being an example of some high quality, outrageous, gore.
The zombie madness continues on in this fashion for most of the films and for the first time in two films it doesn’t feel cartoony…almost. While Romero still utilizes some Looney Tunes inspired gags, he tends to stick to the straight forward super gore. I don’t want to ruin some really superb bits but trust me, its worth the price of admission alone.
With that said, there are two big problems with the zombies and the kills. Firstly, the makeup is seriously lacking.
Here, take a look:
not too special right? Well 90% of the zombies look this and less. I understand that most of these people are newly dead but come on…
The flip side to this is that when the makeup is good, its really good.
Secondly, while I really love most of the gore in the film, I found myself wondering why most of it was included at all. The general set up for 50% of the gags went as such: characters talking, zombie pops up out of nowhere, dispatched in outrageous fashion. Rinse. Repeat.
While entertaining, it just doesn’t feel right most of the time.
Romero’s Survival borders on new and exciting and at the last possible second, he resorts to same ol, same ol. The film is leaps and bounds better than Diary but Romero makes some odd choices in story and pacing and in the last 15 minutes he is able to throw away almost all of the progress he made by creating the single most idiotic moment of logic I’ve seen in a zombie film (you’ll know it when you see it) as well as destroying what was sure to keep the franchise going.
It also begs the questions, does Romero have time for another film? and now that he’s thrown away the opportunities he created, what more can he do?
At the end of the day this is a great entry into the genre and a helluva lot of fun but don’t fool yourselves into thinking that Romero is going to re-invent the wheel or turn in the Citizen Kane of Zombie films with this one.