I remember back when Land of the Dead was finally greenlit, it was horror pandemonium as the great George A. Romero was bringing the world another high-concept zombie film (the genre he created). Soon thereafter, Diary of the Dead was announced and quickly went into production. While critics and fans were more forgiving of Land, they were still pretty damn forgiving of Diary, which is plagued with flaws. But now, with no real wait or anticipation for Survival of the Dead, there’s no room for forgiveness, especially since it appears to be the first Romero zombie film greenlit before he had an idea… and it shows.
Survival of the Dead takes place on an island six days after the dead returned to life. Two old Irish goons are at each other’s throats. The O’Flynns want to destroy all the zombies, while the Muldoons wants to keep them alive until they find a cure… or can teach them how to eat animals. That’s Romero’s new spin on “smart” zombies. So, the Muldoons kick the O’Flynns off of the island and then we cut to the military who you might remember from Diary of the Dead. Sgt. ‘Nicotine’ Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) is the one who robbed the filmmakers in the previous film, which we’re reminded of in a video flashback.
This is where it gets really stupid as the military group watch a video on an iPhone (or something) of O’Flynn who promotes this awesome island free of zombies. It’s a ridiculous propaganda video that left me wondering A: how did this guy record the video B: how did he upload it C: how many people really still have the internet and D: why is this the device that gets them to the head to the island? They are immediately suspicious, yet still go forth with their plan of checking it out. When they get to the dock, O’Flynn attacks the military and when you find out WHY, you’re guaranteed to chuckle. Apparently, his idea is to rob anyone who passes, and if they make it past, they’ll go to the island to annoy his rival the Muldoons. Well, the military group wins the battle and they team up to head back to the island and take on Muldoon. Shootouts ensue, and we’ll leave it at that.
Beyond the uninspiring story, the screenplay is just plagued with problems ranging from odd coincidences to horrid dialogue. One of the best scenes of the movie is when they arrive on the island and a “zombie” girl rides by on a horse. One of the characters comments, “Ohhhh, she’s beautifulllll.” Then there’s Alan Van Sprang, returning from Diary, who delivers the greatest Nicolas Cage in Wicker Man impression. He randomly gets insanely violent, screams, yells and goes bananas, without any reason to even do so. And let’s not forget the mindboggling casting of Richard Fitzpatrick and Wayne Robson (the two old Irish dudes) who overact and speak in the most annoying Irish accent that ever existed.
The real problem with Survival that made it the single worst zombie film of Romero’s career is that there is no protagonist. I hated EVERYONE. The military are a group of assholes and both Irish men are jerks. Even beyond that there’s no clear-cut villain, so there’s no one to really root for. Sure, Muldoon is supposed to be the villain, but considering the circumstances, I can understand his plight as well.
The screenplay and acting weren’t the only problems. The cinematography was horrible, the lighting was blown out and the scenes were staged horribly. In the big shootout at the end of the film, everyone is literally walking out in the open shooting their guns and yet nobody gets hit. It was like watching a cheesy Western from the 60’s or 70’s.
Even worse, Survival felt like a parody of Romero’s movies, like he was making fun of himself. The characters were all making horrible jokes, cartoon gags plague the film (like when a grenade blows off a wall and it falls down showing everyone inside covered in black) and even the kills were WAYYYYYY over the top. My perspective of a Romero film is that when a zombie dies, you cheer ‘cause it was cool, not because it was a funny coincidence. And speaking of the deaths, this is the first time CGI was overused by Romero, and it was horribly done. While a mix of practical and digital FX can work, the majority of deaths were obviously CG (although there are some cool feeding frenzies at the end).
Again, Survival felt like a movie that was conceived after it was financed. While Romero spent years and years trying to get a new zombie film off the ground, times changed and he found things in society to reflect on, which made for a better movie. There’s nothing here in his latest film as the message is forced and empty. It’s a movie that was made “just because.” Although horrible on nearly every aspect, the movie is quite entertaining to watch, which is more than I can say for most films. But that doesn’t mean I recommend seeing it.