[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 4 – Survival of the Dead (2009)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Steffano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson
Screenplay: George A. Romero
90 mins. Rated R for strong zombie violence/gore, language and brief sexuality.

It seems we’ve arrived at the end (for now) of Romero’s Living Dead series. Though George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser) had been planning (potentially) 2 follow-ups to the world he created back in 1968, he never got past scripting the next film by the time he passed in 2017. The franchise came to a close in 2009 with the release of Survival of the Dead, which was, unfortunately, the low point of the series.

Some time after the events of Diary of the Dead, we pick up with the character Sarge (Alan Van Sprang, Saw III, Immortals) and his band of AWOL National Guardsmen as they make their way to Plum Island in search of safe haven from the undead. When they arrive, they discover that the island is far from safe as two warring families fight over the way to properly defend themselves from the living dead scourge. Now, Sarge and his team have to choose a side and decide if Plum Island is worth saving.

It’s obvious from Diary and this film that Romero’s budgets were steadily shrinking. After having issues with the studio system during production on Land of the Dead, Romero opted to take projects with smaller production companies to retain creative control, which I respect. Unfortunately, making a zombie epic is very difficult and very expensive, and while Survival is full of ideas and potential (the film is inspired by William Wyler’s Big Country), the lack of budget keeps the entire production looking cheap where it needs the extra attention.

The biggest loss that comes from the minuscule budget is the choice of (poor) CG in the place of real practical effects. Every time a zombie kill takes place, it’s so shoddily produced that it loses all of the (pardon the pun) bite. There’s nothing fun nor interesting about obvious CGI mayhem. What won over the previous films was the incredible makeup effects. It’s the realism and dedication to creating such disturbing effects that made me fall in love with Day of the Dead and contributed to the film’s foreboding sense of doom. It’s because watching the earlier films made me come to terms with the fragility of our species, something that affected me for days after my initial viewing.

I also think that the film’s crafts lack that punch that the other films have mostly accomplished. Survival’s visual are bland, the music is a bit too cliche and unoriginal, and his ideas are not fleshed out enough in the screenwriting. The idea of these feuding families of Plum Island is clever, and the island setting feels like a smart setting reminiscent of Dawn’s mall setting. It’s just that we don’t get to see developed characters in the O’Flynns and the Muldoons or the rest of island life. These are all stock flat characters that only have one motive for their actions: just because. Due to that, solid character actors like Kenneth Welsh (The Day After Tomorrow, The Void) and Richard Fitzpatrick (Good Will Hunting, The Boondock Saints) have little to work with.

It pains me to say that Survival of the Dead doesn’t work. I’ve watched the film a handful of times during my seasonal franchise viewing of Romero’s Living Dead saga, and it always feels like the slog of the group, never reaching the potential of Romero’s best films. It’s sad that Romero was never able to get the funding that was necessary to fulfill his vision, and I’m hoping to see more movement on Twilight of the Dead, a film that was partially scripted but has been revived by the Romero estate, because I would be sad if the franchise ended on this note.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Creepshow, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

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