On an island off the coast of North America, local residents simultaneously fight a zombie epidemic while hoping for a cure to return their un-dead relatives back to their human state.
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Zombie movie legend George A. Romero and his recent films occupy an odd niche, to say the least. Having basically invented the zombie genre while at the same time arguably perfecting it with his first film, 1968's Night of the Living Dead, Romero made two sequels that each tried to expand on the social commentary-amidst-the-carnage he pioneered in the first. The first sequel, 1978's Dawn of the Dead is great while the second, Day of the Dead (1985), which introduced us to Romero's idea of zombie as degenerate, trainable creature rather than animated magical eating machine, is not. Then he stopped making zombie movies for 20 years.
In that time, a new generation of filmmakers and comic book authors expanded on his zombie vision, and a new generation of fans came to revere Romero as a master and pioneer. He's probably one of those things. None of his three late-period films, Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2008) and this year's Survival of the Dead are very good: they're technically unsophisticated, not particularly scary and painfully heavy-handed with alternately simplistic and totally baffling social commentary. But there are thousands and thousands of fans that love them, that enjoy the shit out of them, that will dress up like zombies and march to Yonge and Dundas square to see him accept some award from a local politician. They cheer every spurt of too-red cgi blood, they laugh at every clunker of a joke and every cheesy throw-away tough-guy one-liner. This is not a bunch of young people latching on to the bad-taste work of a director like John Waters. whose films "offended mainstream sensibilities". The bad taste in Romeros recent films is not provocative, not transgressive, not transvestites eating dog shit. The bad taste from Romero's latest film, for example comes from its basic flaws, its technical and tonal gaps and dips, its weird pacing, its uneven acting and incomprehensible plot. Stuff happens for no reason. Burly actors pitch hammy temper tantrums after other characters die for no explicable reason. Motivations are muddled or missing entirely. Zombies ride through scenes on horseback, apropos of nothing, and nobody notices save a toqued fisherman who remarks flatly "That was my daughter". Even the premise is enough to make you wonder if you're just not getting the joke: Survival of the Dead, tells the story of two feuding Irish patriarchs, one a roguish sea captain, the other a old-west land baron replete with wichester rifle and black cowboy hat. It's set on an island off the coast of Delaware. Seriously. It's easy to miss the joke. To get it, you just have to not care.
The crowd loved it. He's in a hell of a weird spot, Romero. He's a star, a living cinematic legend to an army of devoted fans who can appreciate the hell out of his films, and do, and will. It's not about how good they are, with Romero and Survival of the Dead and the rest of films and his fans, because the film's aren't very good. It's about something else. It's not about advancing the art of genre filmmaking, it's about paying homage its past. Romero's not going to have a moment with his fans like Kubrick did with his after Eyes Wide Shut where millions of eager devotees collectively shrugged their shoulders and got wistful for older better films. As long as Romero keeps making films with lurching starving ghouls, he will always have an audience because seeing his films for these young kids (and I was one of them, lionizing him after watching Dawn of the Dead as a kid and feeling like I had unearthed a secret, hidden treasure) isn't about being moved or scared or entertaned or informed by the actual story or it's actors, it's about communing with an anarchic cinematic spirit, and with each other, part of a zombie horde, out walking at midnight to the theatre, strange and powerful and leaking fluids onto the pavement. It's about being a zombie, which, hell... they had a hell of a lot more fun watching the movie than I did, which is probably my problem, not theirs. 5/10