City Paper is not for tourists
Survival of the Dead telegraphs one of its big problems in the opening voiceover. “The dead were coming back to life,” a soldier drones. “We should have been afraid of them, but we weren’t.” After films such as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead—or even the double-D-movie Zombie Strippers!—can the living dead ever be frightening again? Not in the hands of George A. Romero. Go ahead, cry blasphemy. Then try to stay interested in the Zombie Godfather’s sixth attempt to recapture the keen blend of flesh-eating and social commentary that made him an icon in the first place. Here the writer-director christens his monsters “dead heads” and, as he has in 2005’s Land of the Dead and 2007’s Diary of the Dead, makes them a majority from the start. In one of the film’s few interesting touches, a scene from Diary is replayed from the perspective of National Guardsman Sarge (Alan Van Sprang), a then-minor and now-main character, as he and a few fellow soldiers navigate post-apocalyptic Philly. They steal, argue, and, in the case of Tomboy (Athena Karkanis), openly masturbate. (The latter in a ridiculous scene that’s the first of many designed to bullhorn her defining, inconsequential characteristic: capital-L Lesbian. Really, George?) When the group hears of a “Captain Courageous” who is offering transport to a safe island nearby, they head toward Delaware, more out of boredom than fear. The captain turns out to be a crusty ol’ Irish thief named Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Walsh), kerfuffles and make-up scowls ensue, and soon they all head to his haven—which, proximity to the States be damned, may as well be called New Ireland. Survival of the Dead ultimately, and puzzlingly, comes off like a terrible Martin McDonagh play, with its focus on O’Flynn and his longtime nemesis, another coot with a great villain name, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick). The zombies are an afterthought as the two men and their factions exchange bullets and cartoonish brogues over how to deal with the undead, an apparently generations-deep argument equivalent to capital punishment vs. prison without parole. Aside from a few inventive and occasionally funny re-kills (a flare to the chest that illuminates and explodes a dead head’s head is a highlight), the movie feels like a slavish final from a Romero 101 class. The dialogue’s bad; the acting from its no-name cast worse. Romero, ever the message man, has alleged that Survival’s subtext is about our warring world and how humans often continue to scream at each other even after they no longer remember why they fought in the first place. That’s a fail—along with his intention to make two more Diary-based films.