Midnight Madness Day 3: George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Throughout TIFF, Kris and Joe will be doing "shared" reviews, in which we'll offer our opinions on a particular film in a single post. Kendall is sitting in for Joe who couldn't make it. This is day 3.
It was fitting that last night i attended George A. Romero's latest entry in his ... of the Dead series "Survival of the Dead" zonked from a 3 hour sleep and a following 10 hour shift at the FBE.
I showed up in line looking very much like a member of the undead and feeling not too far off from the same.
Kendall soon joined me and we shuffled into the theater where chaos for good seating ensued. Somehow we snagged some pretty amazing seats, middle row center.
It wasn't until we looked around and noticed that disgruntled cast and crew members were yelling at Tiff volunteers and that we were also sitting right behind the man himself, George A. Romero, that we started to think we were sitting in the wrong seats.
Ah well, it was too late to do anything about it.

Romero came out before the screening to a very impressive standing ovation. As an audience we were not only paying tribute to the legend, but we were also welcoming him as an official Torontonian. Now that he does live here I wonder if Scott will buy 10 copies of all of his films just in case he comes into the store... we'll see.

After a few formalities from George the lights dimmed and i was already fighting to stay awake and that's without one frame of the film playing.

Survival of the Dead is a sequel of sorts to Diary of the Dead which i haven't seen. Unlike any other "of the Dead" films this one has a direct connection to another. The lead in this film was a character in Diary.

Sorry for pussy footing around the review for this flick, i just don't know how to come out and say i didn't like it. So I'll say that. I didn't like it that much.

All the characters have unfinished or unused character arcs, the plot branches out in many directions yet it never follows any plot twist to its natural end. Instead the film jumps and stalls constantly, the film desperately seeking some sort of conclusion but no one is kind enough to just shoot it in the head and be done with it. We watch it limp in horror; a living dead film.

Keep in mind that maybe Romero films aren't my thing. I love Return, Dawn, and Day but when i attended Land of the Dead i was left baffled as i was the only one i knew who just didn't get anything out of it. So there, it may just be me. I heard a lot of people say that Survival was better than Diary of the Dead.

Joe told me to separate the film from the director and look at it as just a film to form a more honest opinion but i can't help it.
It bothers me that Romero's name is on it. I feel like he should be a beacon of quality for the zombie genre, at the very least he should be a director that holds onto old film techniques and the use of special effect make up instead of going digital and heavy use of cheap cgi.
I want one more really good Romero film and this one isn't it, not by a long shot.

What followed after the film was quite possibly the worst Q & A session i have ever attended. Questions like "Do you prefer fast zombies or slow zombies?" or "Why did the zombie cross the road?" or the closing question "Can we see your best zombie impersonation?", all great stuff Toronto.

But i was a zombie by that point so who knows? It may just have been the best b style horror movie ever made followed by the wittiest questions anyone has ever asked a director.

I would like to thank Kendall for being such a blast of a Midnight Madness partner, she snuck in crispers which we would have ate during the movie if we weren't sitting right behind George A. Romero.

Tonight an Aussie horror flick, The Loved Ones looks very promising. Now that the big name tittles are out of the way and the star gazing element of Midnight Madness becomes more subdued I'm excited to sit down and watch some real film. No more big names, no more expectations, from here on in it's all about the films. (minus the closing film Ong Bak 2, I'm hoping for that one we will be treated to a martial arts demonstration by Tony Jaa)



When Survival of the Dead began my (very low, after the disaster that was Diary of the Dead) hopes began to rise. 'Here [I thought], here we will have a Romero movie that is really worth something, about the survival of humanity as a species and the disintegration of our benevolence and the human condition in the face of a crisis.' Ok so maybe i didn’t think quite so poetically in the moment, but you get the idea... unfortunately Romero didn’t. I love sci-fi and horror that aims to expose our humanity as a total crock, a facade of intelligence and superiority over other species that crumbles as soon as we are faced with disaster. Day of the Triffids and The Stand, to me, are both brilliant books that explore this concept, if you’re interested in a good read (I’ve seen neither of the movie-versions). Survival of the Dead, initially, seemed like it was going to be in the same vein as these; the theme of the film murkily reflects this sort of idea with constant references to the difficulty of choosing to hold on to our humanity in terms of our lives, and our humanity in terms of our relationships with people, something that we like to think separates us from animals, at some point in this movie everyone must choose one or the other. However, this whole idea is so muddled by useless story lines and characters that it is hardly noticeable, in fact I’m not even sure Romero noticed it, or really intended it. The story of Survival moves in way too many directions, one leading to another, introducing us to a new character, who we then think will be the focus of the movie, but never turns out to be. In the end the focus settles exactly where it started, making everything that happened in between feel completely useless, and where the film started is with a feud between two Irish families who live on an island outside of Delaware, and it’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.
I really don’t have anything else to say about this movie other than that it’s only redeeming quality is that it is ever so slightly better than Diary of the Dead, which I guess is good for Romero... I guess.


La Sporgenza said...

Film number 3 from the TIFF's 2009 Midnight Madness program that I'm absolutely never going to see.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review.
I am eagerly awaiting this flick, but given Romero's recent track record (imo his decline already had begun with "The Dark half" adaptation), I am not expecting much.
By the way, contrary to your review, George Romero had nothing to do with "Return of the Living Dead." That film just cheaply piggybacks onto "Night of the Living Dead", rather than create its own mythology.