Monday, September 6, 2010

Survival Of The Dead (2009) Teach Them To Eat At IHOP

I love George A. Romero. I really do. He introduced and fine-tuned the modern living dead template as we know it: slow, lumbering dead people who have been re-animated into vessels of hunger, spreading the contagion to those they don't devour. The original trilogy, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead is placed at the top of horror lists the world over. The subsequent fourth installment, Land of the Dead, was disappointing yet still entertaining. The reboot, Diary of the Dead, was a fresh, updated take on Romero's mythos with a few little missteps here and there.

There are many who say Romero should hang up the zombie spikes and be done with the genre. Admittedly, it would be extremely hard to measure up to Dawn of the Dead, and maybe that's unfair to Romero. I know I'm guilty of holding him up to that film, and it's because Dawn of the Dead is my favorite horror movie, and it's an amazing film. M. Night Shyamalan is often held up to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (my favorite movie of Shyamalan's), and maybe that demand is unfair. Because, as everyone knows, nothing measures up to the original blitz of originality and creative flair.

That said, here's my stance: I don't think Romero should give up on the genre. Maybe the movies aren't as good as Dawn of the Dead. But if he's got more stories to tell, and they're at least halfway entertaining, I'm willing to give them a chance. I had middling hopes for his most recent Dead film, Survival of the Dead. I went into expected to see a sad shadow of Romero's past work, but was somewhat surprised to find that it not only held my interest, I was okay with the whole deal.

The story follows an incidental character who appeared in Diary of the Dead. When the main characters of that movie were robbed by renegade military guys, they were threatened by Sarge "Nicotine" Crockett (Alan van Sprang), who advised them to "turn the camera off." In this movie, we find that Crockett passingly remembers those "college kids" and became a minor Internet celebrity when that video was posted. He and his crew have decided to desert and are just searching for a way to escape the rapidly dying (and reviving) world.

Earlier in the movie, we met the feuding families of Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), two Irish rivals whose families have settled on Plum Island, off the coast of Maine. O'Flynn wants to eliminate the zombies, while Muldoon wants to save them. O'Flynn is forced into exile and makes a living on the mainland as a modern pirate. He accepts payment for the use of boats, then sends people to Plum Island to bug Muldoon, who hates strangers.

After rescuing a wise-ass kid from abusive zombie hunters, Crockett's unit discovers O'Flynn's online "advertisement" for escaping the mainland. Arriving, they engage in a gunfight with O'Flynn before one of Crockett's men, Francisco (Stefano Colacitti), jump starts a ferry. They are able to escape with O'Flynn barely making it aboard after all his men are attacked by zombies, and he forms a truce with the military deserters. Francisco is feeling a bit queasy, though, after biting the finger off a zombie that tried to drag him under while swimming to the boat.

Things just under the water. Cue the chills. Remember, that kind of thing skeeves me out.

When they reach the island, they find that the Muldoons have been trying to rehabilitate the zombies. They also have been killing the innocents that O'Flynn sent to "bug" his rival, but he never guessed they'd go that far. A couple Muldoons attack, resulting in Kenny (Eric Woolf) being killed (then shot by Crockett to prevent re-animation). They also meet O'Flynn's horse-loving but living dead daughter, Jane, who stayed behind when her father was exiled. Angered, O'Flynn stalks off to find allies while the unit heads to a nearby meeting hall.

Francisco wanders off to kill himself when he accepts what has happened to him, but Tomboy (Athena Karkasis) follows and tearfully does the job for him so that his "soul wouldn't be damned." Then, she's taken prisoner by the Muldoons.

When Crockett passes out from his wound, the kid heads to try to find water, but runs into someone familiar, yet new. Turns out zombie Jane has a twin sister, Janet, who has arrived to help. She has no love lost for her father, but changes her mind when he admits she was truly his favorite.

When O'Flynn and Crockett, along with their allies, head for the Muldoon ranch, they are forced to lay down their weapons and observe what the elder Muldoon has been trying to achieve: conditioning the undead to eat something other than living people. It has been unsuccessful, but now he has Jane in a pen with her horse and the other living dead out of their pens to watch.

Janet arrives with the discarded guns and evens the odds. There's a battle, and the zombies run loose to do what they do so well: tear and eat. Janet tries to connect with her zombie twin sister, only to be bitten on the hand. O'Flynn and Muldoon face off, and Muldoon just wants O'Flynn to admit he's wrong. Not wanting any more bloodshed, O'Flynn agrees and asks for a moment with Janet. Muldoon coldly shoots O'Flynn in the back, but is gunned down by O'Flynn's hidden sleeve gun. The others begin their escape as Janet watches her sister suddenly take a bite out of the horse.

She runs to tell the others, but is shot by her own father, who is on his last legs. Any last hope of holding the key to conditioning the dead goes to the grassy grave with Janet. O'Flynn shuffles off while Crockett, Tomboy, and the kid return to the ferry, passing up the chance to live on Plum Island, not wanting to become warring tribes like the O'Flynns and the Muldoons.

Zombies devour the horse (the only time I cried "noooo!" in the whole movie) and, against the backdrop of a full moon (looking oddly like the poster for Dawn of the Dead), the undead O'Flynn and Muldoon aim empty guns at each other, their hate never dying.

Like I said, I was okay with this movie. Some of the zombie kills are played for laughs, and some of the acting is dubious, something that occurs in Romero's films. The deus ex machina of the twin sister was a little "okay, really?" and I found people sneaking up on other people with surprising stealth that didn't seem plausible. Really, Tomboy couldn't hear those Muldoon goons coming? And the accents. My, my. Francisco's dialect seemed forced, and O'Flynn reminded me of Malcolm McDowell imitating a pirate. Oddly enough, I still liked the character.

I did like the "message," that the rivalry among humans will continue even at the worst of times when unity and teamwork are needed most. I know...I just know...that if something like the zombie apocalypse were to happen (and, will), humankind will still find ways to blame each other. Political parties will say the other caused it and won't sign on to a good solution the other might have to rectify it. Religious groups will blame each other and "non-believers" as the cause of the dead rising from their graves. Neighbor will blame neighbor. Nation will blame nation. A never-ending cycle. The only winners: the zombies. They don't care who you voted for or what church you go to. They're just going to eat you.

Ah, well, I've waxed philosophical enough for now. To sum up, I did like Survival of the Dead. I know that opinion will be at odds with others' opinions, but that's fun of it all. It's not a bad way to pass a little time, enjoy a little Romero while you're relaxing at home on a lazy afternoon.

Just steer clear of Plum Island. They don't seem to like strangers.

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