In 2005, the grandfather of zombie cinema returned to his roots with Land of the Dead, the first in what purported to be a contemporary re-interpretation of the landmark trilogy of films writer/director George A. Romero had made his name from. But Land of the Dead was a disappointment. Though not an awful film by any stretch of the imagination, it was so devoid of the provocative themes and thoughtful touches that made the likes of Dawn of the Dead so memorable that it simply melted into the collective morass of knock-off zombie cinema - a unfortunate fate indeed for a such a promising film.
Nor did its successor, Diary of the Dead, mark an improvement at all. In fact, if anything, the second part of Romero's modern-day zombie series fell short of even the minor triumps of the first. Trite, predictable and derivative, Diary of the Dead, taken alongside Land of the Dead, was a distressingly clear signal that the very innovator who had pioneered the genre was long past his filmmaking prime. It gives me no pleasure to say that Survival of the Dead continues that trend.
A retread of old ground with no new ideas to shake a dismembered limb at, Survival of the Dead has as its setting an idyllic countryside island where a population of unconvincing Irish Americans squabble pointlessly over whether or not there's any chance the undead might be rehabilitated. Two rival families, each lead by an equally ridiculous old man, have carried over their competetive heritage into the zombie apocalypse: the O'Flynns strut around Plum shooting everything that either is or might be undead, while the Muldoons hope to sustain the zombies on pigflesh and horsemeat until a cure comes along.
There's potential in the basic concept, certainly, but Romero squanders its every last drop. The no-name cast are awful without exception; the script is a blundering mess of the obvious, the insulting and the unbelievable; the plot takes so many outright stupid turns you'll have long since given up hope of the narrative improving half an hour in - and that's a generous margin. Survival of the Dead is an absolute mess of a film. Truly, it's a difficult thing to reconcile such amateurish fan-fic with the legend stood behind the lens.
A few relatively neat moments do little to save this execrable excuse for a film. Early on, for instance, there's some crossover with the characters from Diary of the Dead. And there are a couple of entertaining deaths. But exploding heads and flaregun-fun do not equal classic cinema, and Romero seems to have utterly lost sight of what it was about his groundbreaking original trilogy that made it stand out.
Survival of the Dead has no heart whatsover, and no soul. Even next to Romero's more recent, dodgy-but-decent movies, Survival of the Dead is a sad shell of a film. If ever the was a case of diminishing returns, this is the pinnacle of it. Any more of this fare and Romero will only risk injuring the enduring legacy of his original zombie trilogy. If you're at all interested in his latest, do yourself a favour: go watch Dawn of the Dead again. It doesn't get better than that.