"Survival of the Dead" Review - Romero's Last

Updated on July 15, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

With Diary of the Dead (2007), George A. Romero wanted to retell the origin story of the zombie outbreak and its impact on society. His motivation for the reinterpretation? The arrival of new technologies and emerging media.

But with Survival of the Dead (2009), Romero returned to try to solve a personal obsession that he was having since the mid-80s. Fed up with the narrative trope of the first days of a zombie outbreak, Romero spent decades creatively rehearsing a human society that, after understanding its similarities with the undead, has begun trying living with them. That idea began in Day of the Dead (1985) and was even more developed in Land of the Dead (2005).

Survival of the Dead tells the story of that little National Guard unit who has a brief scene in Diary of the Dead (2007) in which they steal some supplies from those protagonists. Led by Sergeant "Nicotine" Crockett (Alan van Sprang), the unit has done a great job at surviving. However, the party wants to stop being nomadic. They want a place to settle.

In parallel, we know the history of the small Delaware Island Plum, where two Irish rural families have had a historical feud. The zombie outbreak has intensified those differences due to the different approach that each patriarch of the family has.

Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) wants to keep the island zombie-free, which means watching and making sure families don't keep alive their loved undead ones. Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) has a completely different vision: If God wants the dead to rise, it's our obligation to try living with them after securing a cure or at least wait for the end of the divine punishment.

When a "raid" of the O'Flynn ends with the murder of a human mother (who wanted to protect her undead children from the final execution), the Muldoons take control of the situation, neutralizing the O'Flynn operations and exiling old Patrick from the island.

And that's how old O'Flynn crosses his path with Crockett's military unit. After deceiving them with the promise of a paradisiacal island, he ends up accepted by the group, which decidedly goes to the island to try to stabilize their lives.

The experiment they find is equally interesting and terrifying. The small empire of the Muldoons has chained the zombies in small spaces where they loop their former human occupations.

This is how we see a zombie postman who delivers over and over again the same letter in the same mailbox, or a zombie woodcutter giving weak axes again and again to the same trunk. One of O'Flynn's daughters, Jane (Kathleen Munroe) is a zombie who gallops freely on horseback across the island.

Muldoon wants to prove that zombies are capable of eating something other than humans. That, plus a self-centered obsessive desire that old O'Flynn admits his mistake.

Muldoon's moral compass is in total distortion. He shoots the new humans that arrive on the island but keeps his known zombies alive. He cites the Bible, the argument that "that is just the new natural law of life" and that old 19th-century practice of taking photographs of the dead to "keep them alive". Without a doubt, Muldoon is a contradictory and interesting character.

The clash between both factions is imminent. And of course, the outcome of the story gives more hope to zombies than humans to inherit this planet.

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Survival of the Dead displays a more creative and experimental Romero since the 70s. This, his last movie, manages to successfully mix several genres. The vast majority of the time, this is a wonderful and entertaining existentialist western.

This is perhaps Romero's first film since Dawn of the Dead that really relies on the story rather than on the flashy theatrics of the genre. There are characters with full arches, dialogues that don't sound stiff and an interesting moral diatribe at the center of the conflict.

And, of course, there are many heads exploding and viscera sprayed. The CGI exists but is relegated to the background, and it is the glorious makeup and the practical effects that generate the best gory moments.

Unfortunately, the critical and box office failure of Survival of the Dead relegated George A. Romero to a period of inactivity of 8 years that culminated with his death.

I say "unfortunately" because it's likely that having been able to develop the two direct sequels of this film (One of them called Road of the Dead), Romero could have finally established that new genre paradigm he so hard sought.

However, that new paradigm of the zombie accepted as a natural part of our existence, and therefore reinserted in society is clearly exposed in this movie.

So maybe it's time to revalue Survival of the Dead and understand it as a great final movie in a master's filmography.

Zombie Movie Details

Title: Survival of the Dead

Release Year: 2009

Director(s): George A. Romero

Writer(s): George A. Romero

Actors: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, a.o.

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes

4 stars for Survival of the Dead

© 2019 Sam Shepards


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