It’s actually astounding that “Survival of the Dead” comes from someone who’s been in the business for forty years, because it positively reeks of amateurism. The writing is dense and talky, with stilted, masturbatory dialogue, and some of the laziest attempts at horror I’ve ever seen. Not only is “Survival” not scary, it’s not entertaining, and for all its attempts at social commentary, it’s not even insightful.
It’s like Romero spent the last few decades reading essays on “Night” and “Dawn of the Dead,” endlessly stroking his own ego as both a Master of Horror and a respected sociological voice. But where his early “Dead” films were dedicated zombie pieces with a muted social backdrop, “Diary” and “Survival of the Dead” are full-blown, pretentious soapbox films that just so happen to star the walking deceased. In fact, the big zombie sequences this time around are used more to artificially herd our protagonists than they are to exhilarate audiences. Romero’s first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” is unsettling because the threat of attack is omnipresent, and growing exponentially direr. Now, zombies show up seemingly at random, and even by the admission of the characters, pose little threat. The action itself is also horribly cut, and panders to those for whom the zenith of entertainment is a creative zombie death.
But even the most over-the-top kill is rendered meaningless when it’s executed at the hands of such uninspired characters. Romero’s cast is comprised of uniformly cartoony, stereotypical surrogates for human beings that prove not only that Romero doesn’t know his craft, but also that he doesn’t particularly understand people. It might not be so embarrassing if he wasn’t desperate to stay relevant, but he jams in a superfluous teenager who says things like, “Low tech? This is no tech,” and can’t wait to show everyone his iPhone. You’re 70, George. Get over it.
Ultimately, these complaints are just the limp appendages on Romero’s rotting carcass of a career. The man simply cannot write and relate a coherent story anymore. It’s tough to even summarize “Survival of the Dead.” I mean, cell phone kid and a ragtag team of ex-military something-or-others clash with two feuding Irish families on an island off the coast of Delaware (???), a place apparently so far removed from modern society that they settle their disputes with 19th century rifles. What? It’s all just tacky garnishment around Romero’s big question, which is whether or not euthanizing the living dead is a humane practice. It’s an intriguing premise, but one that doesn’t have any real world application. Plus, he posits that a zombie can learn, but also that it’s no less hungry for flesh. Hypothetically, if they’re real, they’re dead, and they want to eat us, I’m not sure it really matters that they have some miniscule capacity for intelligence.
When you get right down to it, there’s nothing in this film that works. “Survival of the Dead” goes beyond a forgivable exercise in over-thinking—It’s so sloppily conceived and ineptly executed that it casts doubt on any talent I once thought Romero had. Like with Lucas and his later “Star Wars” films, the director has, at best, faded into a distant echo of the artist he once was. At worst, his audience is forced to consider that maybe he was never the genius we hailed him as. Now there’s a scary thought.