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Survival of the Dead

Dead in the Water

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

At 70 years old, most filmmakers are either retired or near-retirement. Writer-director George A. Romero, best known for reinventing the undead/zombie sub-genre in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, has revisited the topic several times throughout his career.

This week, heís back again with Survival of the Dead, a direct sequel to 2007ís Diary of the Dead.

Survival of the Dead picks up days after a zombie outbreak on an island community off the coast of Delaware. Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), the leader of one of the islandís ruling families, clashes with the head of the another family, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), over what to do with the living dead.

OíFlynn is all for bullets to the head. Muldoon wants to save the undead in the hope that theyíll be returned to their former states. OíFlynnís daughter, Janet O'Flynn (Kathleen Munroe), sides with Muldoon against her father. Outnumbered and outgunned, O'Flynn grudgingly accepts exile on the mainland.

Always keen to insert social commentary, no matter how superficial, obvious, or merited, into his films, Romero decided to use the Hatfield-McCoy-like feud between two families and their supporters, to his sixth zombie film. Here, he borrows major plot elements from a late-1950s Western, Big Country, with the zombies, kept in chains or in pens, as the third-act wildcard.

Itís exactly what weíve seen before from Romero and the all-purpose subtext, an unsubtle message about sectarian differences leading to escalating violence and mutual self-destruction, is nowhere as profound or meaningful as Romero thinks (or hopes) it is.

The performances are passable at best, and cringe inducing at worst. Thatís nothing new for Romero, whose strengths as a director never included casting actors for their talent or obtaining believable, performances from them. Saddling the islanders with faux-Irish accents (who knew an Irish enclave existed off the coast of Delaware?) doesnít help. To be fair, Romero often saddles his performers with underwritten, under-motivated dialogue that is probably as painful to utter as it is to hear.

Romero also fails when it comes to writing minority characters. A Latino character, Francisco, speaks in a stereotypical mix of Spanish and English. He also canít stop thinking or talking about sex. Itís just one among many examples of Romeroís laziness as a screenwriter, his unwillingness to research characters and dialogue, and simply use and reuse stereotypes to fill out his generic cast of characters.

To satisfy his ever-dwindling fanbase, Romero includes R-rated, zombie-related gore, but, with one or two notable exceptions, weíve seen it all before. Romero throws in the obligatory graphic disembowelment, but since the character undergoing evisceration at the bloody hands and teeth of the undead isnít particularly important (he has 5-6 lines of dialogue), itís hard to care about his fate.

Then again, itís hard ó actually impossible ó to care about the fate of any of the characters in Survival of the Dead. The fault for that falls squarely on Romeroís 70-year old shoulders.