[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.

[Early Review] Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Byun Hee-Bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yun Je-Mun, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-Shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal

Screenplay: Bong Joon-Ho, Jon Ronson

118 mins. Not Rated.


Well, have I got a movie for you today!

Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn, The Housemaid, Monster) who lives on a farm in South Korea with her grandfather and a unique animal, a superpig named Okja. For ten years, Mija and her grandfather have been raising Okja to win a competition against other superpig farmers around the country. Mija is overjoyed when the judge, TV personality and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Life) selects Okja as the winner. But when she learns of what will happen to Okja upon returning to the United States and to its true owner, Mirando Corporation, she sets out to free him and, along the way, gains help from Jay (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, Swiss Army Man) and his ALF (Animal Liberation Front) team. Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, War Machine), the CEO of Mirando, will stop at nothing to use Okja for her own greedy plans in this strange and unique new film from Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Mother).

Now, I get it. Reading that synopsis wouldn’t exactly hype me for a film, and in lesser hands, I’d believe this film to be destined for failure. But with this director, I became more and more excited to see it.

And Okja has a lot going for it. With Bong Joon-Ho’s direction  and powerful writing, the cardinal message shines clear but with enough layers to make the discussion following an important one. The use of the CG superpig allows enough separation from reality for the film to make thought-provoking statements and ask serious questions behind the guise of a science-fiction adventure.

The performances here aid in crafting the unique vision presented, specifically Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando, a villain with motivations and an understandable approach but one that doesn’t always have the right methods to solve her problems. Then, there’s the standout work from Jake Gyllenhaal, who steals every scene as the over-the-top Wilcox, an unhinged failing TV personality who lost his fanbase years ago. Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) also turn in great work, the latter portraying Frank Dawson, Lucy’s right-hand man, but the work from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija rises up to match her fellow performers. The young actress’s ability to play to a CG superpig and hold her own in scenes with much more accomplished actors is strong in its own right.

It frustrates me that a film like Okja was booed at Cannes for having the Netflix banner in front of its opening titles. The streaming giant has more than proved itself in recent years, and Okja stands among the best of their original films. I’ll say it simple: it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. This is a film that balances humor with deep political satire and genuinely heartbreaking moments. I don’t care if this film changes your mind on its subject matter. It didn’t completely change mine, but I’m happy for the interesting viewpoint it offers. This is one that will stick with you. It will make you believe in a superpig.



-Kyle A. Goethe

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