Survival of the Dead


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Survival of the Dead

Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

On Plum Island, off the coast of Delaware, the Muldoons and O’Flynns have been feuding for generations. Things have changed in the world, though, and zombies are ravaging the living on the mainland. A group of renegade soldiers, led by Sarge ‘Nicotine’ Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), seek refuge on the island and the feuding clans not only have to deal with zombies, they have to repel the invaders for the “Survival of the Dead.”

Robin:
George A. Romero continues with his “…of the Dead” series, this time pulling characters from his previous “Diary of the Dead (2007),” and mixes in a wild western and a Hatfield/McCoy-like feud and delivers a fun, tongue in cheek spin on the genre he created with his original “Night of the Living Dead (1968)”.

The Muldoon/O’Flynn feud takes on a whole new cause when the zombies start springing up on Plum Island. The O’Flynns, led by their patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Walsh), wants to rid the island of any and all zombies. Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), the head of the Muldoon clan, has a different idea – one of his own has been turned and he is trying to “domesticate” the zombie population until scientists can find a cure for the plague.  The Muldoons get the jump on the OFlynns and, at gunpoint, banish Patrick and his sons from Plum Island.

Meanwhile, Sarge and his motley crew – Tomboy (Athena Karkanis), Francisco ((Stefano Di Matteo), Chuck (Joris Lasky) and a straggler they picked up known only as Boy (Devon Bostick) – need a safe place to rest and re-strategize their future. They see a commercial on the internet, made by Patrick, inviting anyone seeking refuge to come to Plum Island. The team answers the calling and they set off to find a new home. When they arrive on the island, Sarge and his crew find out that zombies are not their only problem.

“Survival of the Dead” is getting mixed reviews and I wonder why. Entertaining throughout with sufficient gunplay and gore, “Survival…” satirizes its own genre and tosses in an old style western that made me grin merrily all the way through. I like the addition of both footage and back story from “Diary…” in the equation. It helps flesh out the characters right off the bat, since you already know Sarge and his “men,” and the feuding clans story is Americana embodied.

Romero does not waste any of his budget in this lean, mean (in a black humor way) and fast-paced zombie-action-western. His veteran cast gives the story the depth of character it needs to make the viewer sympathize with both sides of the zombie “issue,” which smacks as a treatise, by Romero, on the elderly.

There is a lot going on in “Survival of the Dead” and scripter George A. Romero ties it all together in a neat little package. Unlike other franchises, like “Shrek,” the helmer/scribe keeps it fresh and makes me look forward to the next zombie installment. Now that’s entertainment! I give it a B.

Laura:
On Plum Island, Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh, "Adoration," HBO's "Grey Gardens") and his gang are intent on eradicating the living dead, but his arch enemy, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick, "Flash of Genius"), believes in waiting for a cure.  When Muldoon gets the upper hand, O'Flynn's daughter (Kathleen Munroe) intercedes, suggesting her da' be put on a boat, but he returns with Sarge 'Nicotine' Crocket (Alan Van Sprang, "Diary of the Dead") and his men in writer/director George A. Romero's latest zombie outing, "Survival of the Dead."

Romero's seminal forty-two year-old "Night of the Living Dead" is, perhaps, the most terrifying zombie film every made, but, more importantly, it was a sly socio-political statement.  Romero has been tucking messages into each of his zombie films since, with his last, "Diary of the Dead," commenting on today's instantaneous global media. One would have to make a real stretch to find much substance in his latest, perhaps deducing that his 'cure vs. kill' subplot was a commentary on abortion or perhaps stem cell research, but he's applied it so arbitrarily, even one of his own characters wonders why the Muldoon clan are shooting so many 'deadheads.'  Call this one the Hatfields and the McCoys with zombies - it's a doodle in the Romero canon with only one new and creepy idea.

"Survival of the Dead" picks up with Sarge, the U.S. military man turned mercenary thief from "Diary." He's teamed with lesbian Tomboy (Athena Karkanis, "Saws IV and VI"); the man who wishes she weren't, 'Cisco (Stefano Di Matteo, "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day"); and a boy (Devon Bostick, "Adoration," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid") who needs a clan to call home.  They find a video by a 'Captain Courageous' (O'Flynn) promising sanctuary on Plum Island, but when they arrive at the specified meeting point, O'Flynn turns out to be as mercenary as they are, demanding their worldly goods for transport.  Cisco decides to swim for a docked ferry and makes it.  Tomboy takes pity on a stranded O'Flynn and hauls him aboard.  Once on Plum, they discover they've been coaxed into a long-standing feud.  Boy is entranced by O'Flynn's daughter, now a zombie constantly riding a white horse through the countryside.

There's one really good scene here and it happens on the pier.  One of O'Flynn's cronies sits on the roof, casting for zombies, reeling them up and dispatching them.  When Cisco makes his heroic swim, he doesn't know that the ocean floor is covered in standing zombies.  There is otherwise never any suspense.  The zombies are objects of pity rather than fear, children chained to cribs or adults chained to their former livelihoods or kept within a barn's horse stalls.  Muldoon's early commitment to a cure turns to experimentation in coaxing the undead to eat non-human flesh (a pig, a horse), but his commitment to not shoot them falls by the wayside.

Romero forgoes his usual Philadelphia locations, shooting this time in and around Toronto during autumn's colorful peak.     There are a few good gore f/x, two of them for humorous rather than horrific effect.

"Survival of the Dead" is Romero treading water and beginning to sink.  It's an OK time waster, but no reason to go to the theater, not even for diehard fans.

C
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