Survival of the Dead is a 2009 horror film written and directed by George A. Romero and starring Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh and Kathleen Munroe. It is the sixth entry in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series. The story follows a group of AWOL National Guardsmen who briefly appeared in Diary of the Dead.
Rotten Tomatoes: 30% – IMDB: 4.8/10 (Please read my review before considering these)
Release date: 2009
Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Thriller
Directed by: George A. Romero.
Survival of the Dead is George A. Romero’s last movie directorial effort before his demise in 2017. A zombie classic but one movie which received critical reviews from all parts of the reviews world. Sometimes referred to as a massive failure, this movie, I hope to explain in my review isn’t a bad movie at all. In fact, this is a genius work of art.
It is important to note that Romero never had the giant funding of rich movie studios on any of his works. Land of the Dead (2005) was funded by Universal Pictures but this is a far cry from the pittance he’d received for previous films. That movie also had some big actors on the cast including legendary Dennis Hopper who was fantastic in his role. The next two movies wouldn’t have the same production values.
Survival of the Dead was produced by independent companies, and distributed by Artfire Pictures – released to DVD in 2010. The budget was 4 million dollars. The budget doesn’t detract from the movie, it is a professional art work with good acting, good directing, plot and pace, beautiful set pieces including well chosen locations for the mainland and island on which the latter half of the film would unfold.
So as far as it not being a big budget movie like Land of the Dead, it is nonetheless stunning and given how it looks when watching it I’d say the crew did a great job especially the director of photography.
We have a movie which I would call ‘aesthetically pleasing’, meaning it is nice to look at and the way the actors are presented on screen is also telling of this being a work of art, with deeper meanings than simply another zombie movie. What I particularly like is that right from the word go, we are drawn into quite a dark, haunted world and Romero gives us a zombie kill early on, albeit in a rather black-humour kind of way. Classic Romero, throwing in humour, which he has done before in his movies. Survival of the Dead has more of it, in terms of the zombie kills being somewhat laughable but that doesn’t detract from the effort put into making this.
So, we get dropped into this dark, zombie infested world in which the zombies have taken over. Since Night of the Living Dead Romero has kept the zombies going, with the world becoming increasingly apocalyptic and chaotic. The exception would be the Diary of the Dead in which we see the dead rise for the first time again. In this addition, Survival of the Dead takes us into a warm embrace and George sure knows how to please.
Soldiers go looking for an island, hoping to find safety in a new, terrible world. What they find is that there have been – as is shown at the beginning of the movie with some brilliant acting by Kenneth Welsh – some ongoing feuds between two Irish families. Reminiscent of the Irish civil war in a way, the two men have their own beliefs. One man, Muldoon wants to keep the zombies around and use them to try to get them to eat something other than the living. O’Flynn wants to put them to rest. At first you might be siding with O’Flynn, despite the fact he’s been robbing people and sending them to the island for money, only for them to arrive and be killed by Muldoons people. Intent on keeping the island his own, it is clear the soldiers have stumbled onto a familiar power struggle.
The living fighting the dead. Two Irish men, fighting since childhood. Determined to outwit and outdo the other, the movie sort of trails off from any sort of survival aspect. Which, to me, is genius. Not only are the zombies in the background playing a central role to one of these men, or so he believes, but they are also there are post marks to the climax of the movie. With neither side willing to back down and admit defeat I wondered, initially, what would happen. There was no doubt that blood would be shed. Killing of living and dead. Betrayal, family feud and warring neighbours. It’s drama at its best. I don’t say that lightly.
What Romero is giving us is a human portrait, and I stress again that the acting is good, you just need to be able to appreciate the plot and style to see it. This war between the living comes at great cost. Arrogance and pride take the limelight. Religion and good old fashioned guns combat one another. If morality exists in this movie, neither of the warring parties have it. O’Flynn, too ignorant to stand down has already lost his daughter. I can see his point, and partially agree with ending the zombies. Muldoon comes across at first as very unlikeable. However, as he explains his point I started to see what he was doing. I think, given the movies ending that we can safely say that had both men just lowered their guns and shared the island, that things might have turned out okay for them all.
The soldiers are just caught in the middle of this war, which I find amusing as they are afterall, soldiers. You could say this is a nod to the Green zones in which soldiers become accustomed to being at rest, not firing weapons or being attacked until one day, they are. They side with O’Flynn from the beginning, but at the end of the movie, the soldiers left have told us – through narration by Alan Van Sprang (Sarge) – that he too though there was more to Muldoon’s argument.
It’s a movie with tension, dark humour and slower paced drama that blends rather well into something of a horror. The horrors of war, no side backing down, losing people in the process until nobody is left. Each side taking hits, because they want to be right and to win. George Romero should be glad at this effort as it was not wasted. Far from it.
Further reviews have gone on to say that film doesn’t have the societal issues interwoven into the plot like other Romero movies. This isn’t true because as I said previously the drama and conflict is demonstrated right from the beginning of the movie. If you can see the artistic work here, and what is really being said I believe you will enjoy it. Sure, you might find the scenes stilted and lackluster, but I can see there is a purpose to this. By having no music in one scene it heightens the emotion of a sad character. By keeping the camera stationary when O’Flynn goes to shoot the dead children, we can sense his isolation and pride, being too difficult even for him to do.
I say this many years after I first watched it, but thank you to George A. Romero for this masterpiece. I can see the point. I enjoyed this film, the choice of locations, the direction, the lighting, the aesthetically pleasing set pieces and costume design and the funny zombie kills. It is just a shame that it was your last.
It’s truly a 5 star movie. Give it a chance. It’s a masterpiece.