George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead is his 6th entry into the world of the living dead that all started back in 1968 with the perfect Night of the Living Dead. Since then, Romero has become synonymous with the genre and has become an icon among a new generation of horror directors. Beginning in 2004 with the release of Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder's remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the zombie genre has hit a new stride as countless filmmakers have tried to put their own unique stamp on the genre Romero perfected. While some have succeeded in this task, most have failed (including Romero himself with the sub-par Diary of the Dead). It takes a lot more than just brain eating ghouls to make a good zombie movie and Romero always knew that. He mixed his frights with the right dose of social commentary and pitch black humor that when it all came together, it made for amazing cinema.
Survival of the Dead is what happens when George Romero decides he finally wants to make a modern day western. It contains all the staples you need in a western such as dueling families, scores that need settling, a band of travelers, a secluded setting, and lots of moral ambiguity. All the action takes place on a little island off of Delaware where a generations long feud between two families has come to a head as they each take opposites sides on the philosophical argument on what to do with these newly risen zombies. Is it morally OK to shoot a loved one in the head if they actually are no longer your loved one but just a possessed shell that is out to eat you? I hope I never have to really worry about the answer to that question though it does bring up the discussion of brain dead patient rights. I was a little surprised/disappointed that Romero didn't delve into that topic a bit more.
While I enjoyed the movie overall it took a good amount of time for me to really get invested in the story. It has a pretty short running time of about 90 minutes which I felt was a bit short for what it was trying to be. I would have loved to see a sweeping 2 and a half hour long period western zombie epic but I understand that financially that would have been a poor decision. However despite its short running time, Survival of the Dead still takes a while to get going. The final act however is a great shoot out/feeding frenzy. Speaking of which, the low budget of the movie does show pretty easily in the use of cheap CGI blood splatter effects throughout the film. One of the best parts of the old Romero movies was the use of practical effects. Again, I understand why the movie had to go this route, but it did take me of the film every once in a while.
Romero luckily keeps the core cast pretty small but only gives a few characters really room to grow. Others are just there to take up space until a meaningful kill is needed. I never really cared for a lot of the characters, especially the whiny teenage character that was the perfect example of what old people think young people sound like. There was a point near the middle of the movie where the survivors end up in a small cabin and the teenager (I think he's about 17 or 18) finds a stash of records and quickly makes some frustrated remark alluding to the the fact that the appearance of them is the worst thing to ever happen to him. I had the same feeling the second he showed up on screen.
The movie doesn't cover a lot of new ground, but it was an interesting experiment in trying to mix two genres that Romero clearly has a fondness for. The final shot may be the best of the movie even it is a tad on the nose, but what else should you expect from Romero these days. This is the second Romero movie to basically go straight to DVD after a very limited release so it would be great if it can gather a big enough following to grant Romero the money to release another theatrical zombie movie with a bigger budget. I hope people give this movie a shot and that they enjoy it as much, if not more, than I did.