FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 2, 2010

yeah, yeah- we are them and they are us

I think I understand the point that George Romero is trying to make with Survival of the Dead (2009)- you know, that maybe we (humanity, that is) are the real monsters. That's right. It's us, the jerks, and not necessarily the zombies. It's a point he's been making since 1985's Day of the Dead and at this point I just want to say: ALRIGHT. I GET IT.

With that out of the way, I hope that with his inevitable next zombie opus he can go back to his roots and do something he hasn't really done since Day of the Dead: make a scary zombie movie. If there's one thing Survival of the Dead is not, it's scary. I guess it's not meant to be, and for the millionth time: it's pointless to criticize a film for what it's not. However, I think it's well within reason to expect a horror movie to try...or, at the very least, to try to try.

The film begins a mere six days after the zombie outbreak, pitting it somewhere between Night of the Living Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Dawn of the Dead on the Romero Zombie Outbreak Timeline. A bunch of paramilitary types give us the quick rundown: the dead are returning to life, shoot 'em in the head to kill 'em. We are treated to some horrendous CGI bloodshed that will have even Stevie Wonder pining for the days of Tom Savini's latex and karo-drenched visuals.

There's a wee place off the coast of Delaware called Plum Island, and it's chock full of...Irish people. Irish-Americans? It's unclear. Their unexplainable thick brogue is something you simply need to immediately accept as a viewer and quickly move on. It's an island full of Irish folk. Fine.

Island inhabitants the O'Flynns and the Muldoons are locked in the grips of a decades-old Hatfield/McCoy-style feud, one that's come to a head in the midst of the outbreaks. Clan patriarchs have differing ideas regarding how to deal with the walking dead; O'Flynn says kill the dead dead, while Muldoon says rehabilitation is the way to go. The factions continue to disagree until Muldoon gains the upper hand and O'Flynn is cast off the island.

Three weeks later, O'Flynn and the paramilitary dudes meet up on the mainland and decide their best bet is to head back to Plum Island, to take on Muldoon and hang out in isolation until this zombie thing blows over.

They arrive at the island and discover that Muldoon's plan isn't quite working out the way he expected: when chained-up, zombies will continue to perform rudimentary, repetitive tasks like sticking mail in mailboxes. Unchained zombies enjoy horseback riding.

Above all else, the walking dead still crave the taste of human flesh. Muldoon seems to think that if zombies could be made to eat animals instead of people, everything would be both hunky and dory. Shootouts and a few more CGI zombie deaths ensue.

The thing that irks me the most, perhaps, is that the zombies are virtually unnecessary in Survival of the Dead. Human conflict in the face of a real, irrational threat, as approached in Romero efforts such as Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead is a fine hook upon which to hang your movie. I mean really, what does happen when people stop being polite and start getting real? People get cornered in basements. People get ripped apart. People get eaten by dead people who have come back to life. That is a terrifying concept, and I don't care if the zombie genre has been kicking in earnest on and off since the late 1960s- dammit, it can still make for a terrifying movie.

In Survival of the Dead, however, no one is much afraid of the walking corpses. They're on the periphery, treated with a casualness that renders them oversized, over-bitey children. They're offed in creative ways, to be sure- but it's all too cavalier. For all the bluster and shouting of the military dickheads in Day of the Dead, they were all still damn afraid of the zombies. Therefore, I was afraid of the zombies. If they're portrayed as more nuisance than threat- this, less than a month since the outbreak!- then why bother? Why bother, George Romero? Just make a movie about how awful livng human beings can be to each other. Just have your weird Irish islanders kill each other. Zombies deserve better than to be all but ignored by characters and, by extension, you. And us.

Characters have never truly been the strong suit of Romero's. In general, one or two are marginally interesting and the rest are mostly fodder of one type or another. At this point, they all feel like caricatures; in fact, a good portion of them don't even have proper names- they're just called by type. The lesbian is "Tomboy", the boy is..."Boy", the one who smokes is "Nicotine", and so on. I expect the next film in the series will feature characters named "Wig", "Glasses", and "Nunchucks".

Wait, that kind of sounds awesome.

My point is, if you want to make this a horror film about humans more than about monsters, then at least give your humans some real humanity. And for fuck's sake, please try to work in some horror.

I tried to get into Survival of the Dead, really I did. I wanted to enjoy it. I did enjoy it more than the abysmal Diary of the Dead. To be honest, it's not so much that I disliked it as it is that I simply didn't care...and I certainly wasn't scared. To me, that's much more sad.

Oh yeah, and then there was that time the moon 1) swelled to a worrisome size or 2) was about to collide with the Earth.


Dirk Manning said...


Stacie Ponder said...

Can I get a...whatever people get when they're testifying up in here? Woo!

CashBailey said...

Look at that moon!!

I haven't seen a moon that ridiculously big since the last JRPG I played.

Banned In Queensland said...

‘It used to be us against us. Now it’s us against them.’ – Jason.
‘He was right, “us against them”, except they are us.’ – Debra.

If they aren't the two dumbest lines of dialogue in the history of motion picture history then I'll eat the person that made George Romero's hat.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I think I've seen a few movies that were like that...the whole 'What really makes one human' thing. Although one of them is the zombie movie "Fido", which has more of an amusing setting. (Alternate Universe 1950s where zombies roam) But you do have the boy and his mom, that start to see their zombie as a person rather than their detached father. (Who doesn't even believe his wife when she tells him that she's expecting another baby...oh man...)

gord said...

While I enjoyed the film more the second time (it ties in 4th with Land, with Diary far behind in a distant made up number that comes after infinity), I really liked your point about the zombies being pushed to the sidelines. While I didn't mind the drama of the film it is bizarre that it was more drama than horror. So great point! Kudos!

I think this weakness would have made much more sense if it the film had taken place after Land of the Dead. In that film, people had become complacent and willing to return to life. With this, I'm sure would have come a more rational existence and not one solely based on killing everything all the time. But to say that after 6 days people would simply think 'ho-hum' when seeing their dead friends and family wandering about is ridiculous.

Neil Sarver said...

However, I think it's well within reason to expect a horror movie to try...or, at the very least, to try to try.

I'm not sure I agree.

I mean, in principle I do.

But I'm not sure I agree that "scary" is the only worthwhile thing to do with monsters and other supernatural creatures. And sadly the world we live in doesn't have a way to market things as "monster" or "dark supernatural" without simply labeling them as "horror".

Craig Blamer said...

The minute Bub rolled into the picture, zombies became progressively less scary in Romero's movies. His alliance swung and... well, what's so scary about zombies that you're supposed to feel empathy for?

Which is, I suppose, part of Romero's headspace. Even with Night of the Living Dead you got the vibe that George wasn't a real people person.

Although I have to say... I did enjoy Survival. Loved the Dick Cheney analog of Muldoon. Although that climax got a li'l silly, what with folks literally putting their hands out to be bitten. Oh, well. Still infinitely more interesting than Zombieland.

A.J. Axline said...

But, even more importantly, do the zombies shamble? Because, these running track meet zombies are not cool. Zombies SHAMBLE, damn it. That's what they do.

Anonymous said...

I guess I liked this more than you did. You're right about the lack of danger the zombies represent, although I didn't really think too much about it when I reviewed it. What struck me when I saw it was how much funnier it was than Romero's previous movies. But I'm with you on the CGI. I understand what George says about time and budget constraints, but a lot of the CGI here is pretty awful, like the undead soldier who gets his head blown off in the opening scene.

Robert H. said...

I don't think that Romero is tired of horror, but I DO think that he is sick & tired of zombies... and unfortunately, that is all that people funding these movies want from him.

As I said earlier, I liked SURVIVAL more than I did DIARY, but both movies are sort of unnecessary - From NIGHT... to LAND... sort of runs the gamut of zombiedom. Granted, had he been able to make TWILIGHT OF THE DEAD, that could have been his Final Statement on all things zombie, and we all could have moved on.

If he does end up making another zombie film, he should just do it as an outright AIRPLANE styled comedy - that would shake things up considerably.

Sad man said...

Romero is dead to me, no pun intended. DIARY and SURVIVAL are so inexplicably bad that I can no longer support the guy, let alone be excited for his next dead crapfest. Film students can make a better film that this with a dollar and a cell phone. I remember that short about the zombie and the pizza, that was awesome and light years better than this. It's like Romero is not even trying anymore. Why bother then?

beedubelhue said...

Enjoyable as always.I linked a feed to Final Girl over at the Wop btw.Keep up the good work,kiddo.


Anonymous said...

This gives me the sads. I think it may be because Romero was the first horror movie director that I was really interested in.
And I really, really miss the days of practical effects. Really. It just seems like directors are using CGI when they feel like lazily adding a scare.

Stacie Ponder said...

Neil, I see the point you're making and I sort of disagree with myself- or, at least, I kind of misspoke. I think the idea of "What constitutes a 'horror' film?" is one that can't be broken down into a throwaway sentence- if it can clearly be defined at all. It would make for an interesting essay. Curt over at Groovy Age tackles that sort of thing frequently.

There are plenty of different levels and types of horror, but at the least, I believe that horror films should contain...well, horrific elements. "Scary" isn't the right word at all, because there are plenty of films I've seen that I'd call "horror" but didn't "scare" me whatsoever.

Are zombies horrific enough? I guess, maybe, based solely on their nature. But somehow, I didn't find them remotely horrifying in Survival, beyond my knowledge that they're dead and cannibalistic and that's weird and awful and gross- and that all comes, really, from my experience with the zombie film.

I didn't find the humans terribly horrifying, either. Everyone was just sort of there and boring. I felt NOTHING, which is the problem. If you're not going to scare me, then provoke me or make me think a little- even if it's just so much that I see the ideas in the framework that weren't executed well. With Survival, I got squat.

CashBailey said...

Zombies riding horses? Really!?!

Why do I get the feeling that Romero thought of that bullshit and said to himself "Before I die I have to make a movie where a zombie rides a horse..." and that it why this movie got made.

Turnidoff Productions said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I just saw it last night. I almost did a spit take when the "twin" plot element was thrown in. I mean, COME ON!

bty: here's my review from a CGI standpoint. (well I kind of trailed off for a bit. It got me all riled up)

David Robson, Proprietor, House of Sparrows said...

I was more generous in my review - I also thought that maybe the zombies were extraneous (the storyline was lifted from 1958's THE BIG COUNTRY, Wikipedia helpfully informs), but the final shot, on reflection pulled it all together beautifully.

And it has to be a conscious visual rhyme of the iconic bald zombie from DAWN OF THE DEAD.

I opined that some folks, when they reach retirement age, take up painting as a hobby, and I look at Romero's recent zombie films in a similar light: modest sketches calling back to themes in the wider canvases of the early classics. But I'm the forgiving sort.

GD said...

My porblem (and SPOILERS will abound) is that the backbone of the story told in Survival is so flawed as to ruin any point he's trying to make.

The dead are our family members. Ok, got it. It's hard to see family members die and thus would likely be that much harder to see them die and then come back to shambling life. Got it.


The conflict between the eye-rollingly awful families is predicated on "do we kill them or keep them around in case there's a cure?" which makes no sense.

How do you cure being a zombie?

Who cares? It's irrelevant because Romero has spent over 40 years telling us (and has, in interviews SPECIFICALLY addressed this...I just listened to a podcast the other day in which he says it) that you DIE and THEN you come back.

So if we cure zombieism then we're not left with people, we're left with dead bodies.

Therefore, this blood feud is based on "do we shoot them in the head and bury them or let them roam around, KILLING AND EATING INNOCENT PEOPLE, until MAYBE they get cured, and then bury them?"

REALLY? You're killing each other based on whether or not the dead should be buried with our without a bullet in the head?

THAT's the story on which you're hanging a 90-minute movie?


GD said...

The massive problem with this is that the conflict is terrible.

It's been well established by Romero that people only turn into zombies after they die. Therefore zombies are simply dead people with locomotion.

So the blood feud between the families is based on whether or not you shoot a corpse and bury it or let it roam around, killing innocent people until a cure is found, until there is a cure found, after which the "loved ones" will drop to the ground, still dead, to be buried.

Sorry. Doesn't work.