George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead


George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead

Hellllllllloooooooooo handsome!

(2009) Horror (Magnet) Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick, Richard Fitzpatrick, Stefano Colacitti, Athena Karkanis, Steano DiMatteo, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson, Josh Pearce, Michelle Morgan. Directed by George A. Romero

And in the end of days, the dead shall rise and walk the Earth. We just didn’t think that was meant literally. However, George A. Romero took it one step further yet.

Eight days after the dead begin to walk, the army quickly realizes they are fighting a losing battle. There are far more dead than living and the living may be turned dead not just by dying but by getting bitten. One company led by Sarge Nicotine Crockett (van Sprang) sees that this is a hopeless cause and determines to head somewhere remote where the people are few and the dead are fewer. Fewer people means fewer reanimated corpses to kill…again.

Sarge and his guys Tomboy (Karkanis), Kenny (Wolfe) and Francisco (Colacitti) as well as young Boy (Bostick) make their way to a dock which, Boy informs them, has a boat that can take them to Plum Island, just off the coast of Delaware. This land is inhabited by two families only – the Muldoons and the O’Flynns who have been feuding ever since anybody could remember. These days it’s about how to deal with the zombies. The O’Flynns think the zombies should be destroyed, since their animating spirits are departed. The Muldoons believe the dead are merely diseased and should be treated with compassion and chained someplace meaningful so they can go through their lives…er, afterlives with some sort of comfort until a cure can be found.

In the middle are caught Sarge and his crew and it won’t be long before the crossfire starts creating more problems than it solves; after all, every new corpse creates another zombie for them to deal with.

Romero is one of those directors who is legendary among the demographic he serves – to wit, zombie lovers. Most of the mythology of zombies in general in modern literature both graphic and traditional was evolved by Romero in Night of the Living Dead and its succeeding films. Romero’s contribution to the horror genre in particular and film in general cannot be understated.

This is not Romero at the top of his game. The story is pedestrian and a bit disjointed. Romero is known for making social commentary thinly veiled as a horror film and this could easily be construed as a parody of the two party system. However, the characterizations are so cliché and the plot so thin and quite frankly, the acting so uninspiring that if Romero’s name wasn’t on this you might easily be persuaded to give up on the movie early on.

But this being Romero, he knows how to kill zombies and the zombie kills are at least interesting but at this stage of the game you really need more. It is kind of sad that the real innovating in the zombie genre is being done on cable (although Zombieland introduced a nice comedy element into it).

Still, it’s George Romero and watching even the weakest work by a master of that magnitude beats the best days of thousand of lesser talents out there. This isn’t his most entertaining work by any stretch of the imagination and there are plenty of zombie films that are better than this one. There are also better films to start with if you are unfamiliar with Mr. Romero’s talents. While the score it’s getting is poor, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watching – it’s just you probably won’t want to give it any more than that. And that is not normal for the film catalogue of George Romero.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s George. Effin. Romero.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It simply doesn’t measure up to his previous work.

FAMILY VALUES: It is a George Romero zombie film, so it comes as no surprise that there’s a surfeit of gore. There’s also no shortage of bad words, a smattering of sexuality and yes, all the violent zombie goodness that only Romero can deliver.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film that Romero has used major characters from a preceding film as leading characters.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a couple of interviews with Romero as well as a fascinating featurette on how to create your own zombie bites on a reasonable budget.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $143,191 on a $4M production budget; a certain box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: “The Walking Dead”

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Day 2 of the Six Days of Darkness 2012

Shotgun Stories


Shotgun Stories

Nobody does the wary look better than Michael Shannon.

(IFC First Take) Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, Natalie Canerday, Glenda Pannell, Lynnsee Provence, Michael Abbott Jr. Directed by Jeff Nichols

For most of us, family is the most important factor in our lives. We’ll do anything, risk everything, and put our lives on the line if it means protecting our families. We strive to always be there for our families, to never fail them. When our families fail us, it is a terrible thing however.

Son Hayes (Shannon) and his brothers Kid (Jacobs) and Boy (Ligon) were brought into this world by, in Son’s words, a hateful woman who knocks on his door one night to inform him that his estranged father has died. She informs him in much the same way as she might tell him that the local supermarket is having a sale on cantaloupes. She has no plans to attend the funeral, although Son and his brothers do, even though the man couldn’t be bothered to give them names, was an alcoholic degenerate who eventually found sobriety and Jesus, and left them to start a new family with four new sons. Son, as a matter of fact, has a few words to say at the funeral, none of them good about his late dad and his other four sons who don’t take kindly to Son’s harsh words and his final defiant gesture of spitting on the grave of their mutual Pa.

Of course, it isn’t like their lives were scintillating to begin with. Son works on a fish farm feeding the fish. His wife (Pannell) left him recently, taking their son with her, since Son has a tendency to spend every dime he has gambling using a system of his own creation. Kid lives in a tent in Son’s yard and is trying to put enough money away to marry his long-time girlfriend who waits for him patiently. Boy is the basketball coach at the local middle school, living in a van and trying to beat the summer heat by plugging in a home air conditioning unit into the cigarette lighter in the van, with predictable results.

Thus is the way of things in rural Arkansas. Son’s gesture escalates into a blood feud that will leave at least one person dead and the lives of both sides altered beyond repair.

If Shakespeare had lived in Little Rock, this might be what Hamlet might have turned out like. The sense of impending tragedy is palpable, and Nichols is a keen student of human nature (being a native of the Little Rock area, he has a fine affinity for the characters and the rhythms of their speech). That’s not to say that this is a timeless classic, only that it captures certain elements of the Bard well.

Shannon is a man among boys here, showing off the kind of chops that would win him an Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road the following year. He has eyes that pierce through the camera and a scowl that dares you to cross him, informing you that you would be most unwise if you do.

I liked the dialogue of the movie; there’s an authenticity to it that elevates the movie. The characters mostly talk about the inane, often with a biting sense of humor. Rarely does a movie explore such depth in such simple terms without a bit of a self-congratulatory streak in it. It is business as usual for these characters and they go about it with grim efficiency, knowing that given the way life has always treated them, it will end badly for them eventually.

There is a certain amount of indie drama 101 in the filmmaking here, and I won’t deny that some of this treads familiar ground. I have to admit though that I found this a fascinating life study, because while these guys may be uneducated, they’re not necessarily stupid and they certainly have a lot of qualities that are worthwhile, despite the fact that their father dealt them a losing hand from the get-go.

They keep plugging away having accepted the inevitable and embracing their own undeclared war on their own past demons, although they probably wouldn’t put it in those terms. They just follow their instincts, and those instincts are usually headed straight down the wrong way on a one-way street. If the Hayes boys were reading this, they might say something along the lines of at least that way they can see all the traffic coming.

WHY RENT THIS: A gripping look at an extended family torn apart, with some strong performances particularly from Shannon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve seen a lot of this before, albeit not as well in some cases.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are on the mature side and there is some violence, although not graphic or brutal. There is some blue language but not a lot. I’d probably think twice before letting the more immature members of your family see it, but should be okay for everyone else.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All of the sequences taking place after dark were shot in a single night.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Spiral