Survival of the Dead (2009)
For many of you, this review may be the first you've heard about Survival of the Dead, which is a sign of how far Romero has fallen. It's tragic that the father of the modern zombie film can no longer get good press, let alone a wide release. The unfortunate truth is that this film deserved neither, though. "Muddled" was the first adjective that came to my mind after viewing it, and I still think it applies. Romero's distinctive style is nowhere to be seen in this movie, and nothing seems to fit together well. The plot shambles like a zombie itself, lurching in the right general direction, but relying more on base instinct than intelligent thought.
Romero reset the zombie apocalypse timeline in Diary of the Dead, having the outbreak begin in the modern day, and this movie is also in that timeline, happening simultaneously with Diary. The soldiers who show up briefly in Diary form the core of the protagonists here, along with some kid they pick up along the way (listed in the credits as "Boy", but he's really in his late teens). They're all looking for a safe place to hole up, and "Boy" has seen a clip on the internet of an old guy telling people about an island off the coast of Delaware that will be a haven against zombies. That's where things start to fall apart.
The old guy is Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), and in case you couldn't guess, he's Irish. He's the patriarch of a large family on Plum Island, which also contains another large family with its own patriarch, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick). According to the dialog, there are two families on this island, so the strange actions of the characters might be put down to generations of inbreeding. At the beginning of the zombie outbreak, Patrick and Seamus have a disagreement about the best way to handle things: Patrick wants to kill all the zombies, and Seamus wants to keep them alive in case a cure is found. Patrick is a little too hard core in his extermination for some of the island residents that haven't had time to emotionally adjust to the situation (this is only six days into the outbreak), so when Seamus makes a bid for complete power, Patrick doesn't have a lot of support. Patrick ends up getting exiled from the island, along with some of his loyal followers/family members.
This still doesn't sound that bad. In fact, if Romero had taken this basic idea and given it to a writer (some of whom previously would have probably donated a lung to be able to work with Romero, but maybe not now), it could have been a pretty decent movie. Instead, the story breaks down when the soldiers and the Irish exiles come together.
Patrick's plan is to take everything worth anything as a fee from the people that come looking for the island, and then send them over to bother Seamus. If the travelers don't want to pay, Patrick takes their wealth at gunpoint, and yet for some reason these travelers are still trusting enough to continue on to the island. How Patrick hopes to use this wealth isn't clear, since he shows no signs of moving on to anywhere other than the dock he's hiding out at, and civilization is breaking down anyway. When the soldiers show up, in an armored truck and with automatic weapons, Patrick still tries to rob them, and a firefight ensues. The noise attracts several nearby zombies, with the end result being that Patrick ends up returning with the soldiers and "Boy" to the island. Why is he going back now? Is it because he now has the soldiers that he tried to rob as allies? Does he think they have any interest in helping him? Apparently so, because he's a lovable old rascal, and the soldiers can't resist his rascal charms.
I've summarized this much of the plot because I wanted to give an idea of the quality of writing involved here, but I'll stop because I don't want to give too much else away, since I know many of you will still watch this. But I wouldn't feel that I had given you fair warning if I didn't say that the there is much more the movie that left me scratching my head, including elements of the zombie mythos that I think Romero would have been better to leave alone.
The movie certainly could have been worse. There were some creative scenes and zombie kills that kept the movie entertaining in parts, and the acting was pretty decent. There were ideas in the story that were interesting, even if the execution fell short. Romero is in this gray zone where he still takes too much pride in his work to do a mindless gut-muncher, but his attempts to hit the mark above that are seriously flawed. The result is a disappointment, where you end up being frustrated at the lost potential for a good, or even great, film.