Survival Of The Dead

Survival Of The Dead

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Reviewed by: Daniel Hooper

Somewhat aptly, the zombie film is a horror sub-genre that it seems will never die – as long as man is able to shoot films, he (or she) will very likely continue to shoot zombies in the name of entertainment. The z-films’ (and books, comics, video games) survival is due to its ability to find variation in the way of essentially telling the same story – population becomes infected, dies, returns to life – over and over, in a sort of Darwinian ‘survival of the anti-fittest’, if you will. No one knows this better than George A Romero, the architect of the dead.

The narrative is loosely told from the point of view of the de facto leader Sarge ‘Nicotine’ Crocket (Alan Van Sprang) and his own slowly decreasing group of soldiers, outsiders to the secluded Plum Island setting, a safehaven less ravaged by the undead than most. Survival Of The Dead is at its core a western-style story of two warring clans, the O’Flynn’s vs the Muldoon’s, a fight motivated more by a personal conflict than the difference in views in how the undead should be managed. As per western genre staples, the clans’ leaders Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) and Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) are symbolised as the outlaw and the sheriff respectively, with the battle for moral superiority remaining ambiguous throughout.

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Coming out hot on the heels of Romero’s last effort, Diary Of The Dead (a fact tacitly acknowledged in the opening with the references to a net video shot in Diary, featuring ‘Nicotine’), Survival is another twist in his undead cannon. This, though, is also the work of the zombie genre’s auteur and lots of signifiers from the directors previous work can be seen throughout, from the film's opening in a claustrophobic military base with on-edge soldiers (Day Of The Dead), to the macabre general concept of the functional undead (Land Of The Dead), to the aforementioned net videos of the undead, to a shot so slavishly reminiscent to the poster artwork of Dawn Of The Dead that it almost takes you out of the moment.

It is comendable that the story and the film have ambition within the constraints of the z-film genre and low-budget filmmaking in general – since his frustration with shooting the ambitious-but-flawed Land Of The Dead with Universal, Romero has returned to his indie roots. Romero does add to his zombie lore with an element that could be seen as intriguing or questionable (and which to reveal would be a bit of a spoiler) but in this film it doesn’t effect the story too much.

In other aspects, Survival holds up as a better example straight-to-DVD filmmaking, which sounds like a massively backhanded compliment when referring to the creator of a now popular genre, but sadly this is the reality for a lot of low-budget genre films. The terse dialogue and snippets of characterisation are fine as far as genre storytelling goes, and at least make our heroes likeable and their relationships believable enough. The acting, too, is up to standard without being award-worthy - apart from one or two slightly ‘off’ Irish accents.

When viewed with hindsight to Romero’s previous work, though, it would be overly enthusiastic to say that Survival is a true return to form after the relative misfire of Diary, but it is difficult to deny that Survival is a pretty good piece of genre filmmaking. If Survival Of The Dead was directed by anyone other than George A Romero then it may have been better received, but that is the problem with being the long-time heavyweight name of a genre - the battle with your past glories. Just ask John Carpenter.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2010
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Two tribes go to war in an undead apocalypse.
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