TIFF '09 Review: 'Survival of the Dead'


George Romero is just riffing at this point, and I think it's a lot of fun.

Yes, the undisputed lord of socially relevant zombiedom is back with another off-kilter tale of apocalyptic oddness, and if you thought his last one (Diary of the Dead) was a divergence from the formula laid down in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead ... well, get ready for something even stranger in George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead.

As he did with Diary (a film that's referenced early and rather cleverly), Romero tracks back to the earliest days of the zombie outbreak, so if what you're after is a non-stop zombie-throng like we saw in Day or Land, you might have to reset your expectations with Survival of the Dead. The story, if you can believe it, is about two warring Irish clans who hole up on their home on Plum Island ... which is right off the coast of Delaware. Much of the tale focuses on the O'Flynns (who want to chop up the zombies right quick), the Muldoons (who hope to quarantine the undead in case a "cure" can be found), and an intense group of soldiers who are looking for a place to hide.

While not nearly as confidently satirical as the best "Dead" flicks, Survival wrings some fun out of a quandary we're dealing with today: How Group A and Group B can refuse to team up against Zombie Horde C, even when that's really the only option left. In a film geek sense, Survival works as (get this) a sort of neo-zombie Western flick, with the aggravated soldiers acting as both help and hindrance to either Irish clan, depending on how it benefits the unit.

Long on lunacy and short on logic, Survival of the Dead represents Romero's strangest chapter in his zombie sextology, and if it lacks some of the master's earlier and more trenchant commentary, it earns points on sheer enthusiasm, originality, and affable strangeness. Aside from the surface-level pleasures (which include some strong laughs, lots of zombie mayhem, and a fantastic lead performance by Kenneth Welsh), there may not be a whole lot to (ahem) chew on, especially in comparison to Romero's best films, but Survival of the Dead is evidence of a veteran horror guy who still has a few colorful stories left to tell. With zombies.

Review originally published September 21,2009.  Survival of the Dead is scheduled to be available on VOD April 30 and in limited theatrical release May 28.