In a year that nearly everyone across the board has admitted to being a weak one for films in general 2009’s “Survival of the Dead” continues to stand out among the mediocrity and abysmal for its sheer down to Earth storytelling in the saga of the Dead where Romero is completing a second chapter in his Dead franchise. We had “Night,” “Dawn,” “Day,” and “Land,” and now to fit in with modern society, Romero has restarted the whole premise and entire sensibility with “Diary,” and “Survival” showing the downfall of a world, now very dependent on technology and the world wide web. “Diary” is a movie that continues to be misunderstood.
Especially today, it’s a brilliant and utterly horrifying look at the end of the world through the digital lens, where film students take it upon themselves to provide the masses with a scope of the zombie apocalypse through film and the internet. It all comes to an astounding finisher as we see the dead looming outside out comfort zones through grainy surveillance cameras and monitors inside a panic room at a character’s mansion in the middle of nowhere. In it Romero takes away everything from our wide scope, our near sightedness, our perception of reality, and our peripheral vision. Zombies creep around hospitals and hallways and even creep in and out of camera shot by surprise (i.e. a lone patient zombie in a hospital who sneaks up on a character taking us by surprise before them).
Following on that tangent, a seemingly unimportant story element is given future relevance as we learn about the journey of Crocket. He’s a man depicted as a villainous goon in “Diary” who steals food and supplies from our characters in their RV at gunpoint. We see him again in “Survival,” now as the sequel’s main character, even mocking himself about his depiction in “Diary,” asking us to see his point of view. We learn in “Survival” that he’s just as horrified and desperate as everyone else, and a conflicted and mad Sarge for a dwindling unit desperate for sanctuary in a dying society. They are just like everyone else. They’re sexually starved, physically exhausted, and mentally distraught. Like many of us, they retreat to cheesy internet programs for their escapism, except they revolve around the zombie apocalypse.
Happening upon a small island in the sea, he and his small band of soldiers watch as two families go to war on a small island. Both clans act as allegories for the pro-life and pro-choice movement. One family is rooting for the dead, insisting they’re still alive and that killing them is not unlike murdering actual humans (a la pro-life fanatics), while a majority of the family insists there’s simply nothing but lumps of dead skin and snuffing them out has nothing to do with religion or god, it’s just a matter of common sense (a la the pro-choice supporters). This battle ensues between the groups of Irish villagers all of whom have split loyalties.
They soon force Crocket and his group to watch helplessly hoping for someone to put down their guns and focus on the truly important task at hand: fixing the damn world up. Romero, as always, has used his zombies as a device to reflect upon humanity and how we’re so focused on the small things that we can’t focus on the bigger threats at hand. Except these people are more concerned with their petty indifferences while the greater populace here are distracted by the media. While we bitch and moan about the evils of homosexuality, and illegal immigrants, we’re forgetting the bigger pictures like over population, global warming, and the destruction of our ecosystem.
The Sarge and his friends “Boy,” and “Tomboy” are absolutely despondent when they seek safety and comfort from the rising dead and discover that this place with the capability for survival and answers on how to deal with the walking dead, are getting nothing done. They can literally do nothing but sit around watching this family argue and destroy one another thanks to bickering about what to do with these walking corpses. There’s not a single moment of sanity and rationality here as every character who seems like they have their head on straight inevitably does something so utterly absurd that we soon begin to realize that the answer for survival may never actually be revealed. No matter what we can’t put down our guns long enough to figure out the true enemy.
Romero outdoes himself, channeling “Dawn of the Dead” with his dark humor, “Day of the Dead” with the topic of adapting the zombies to new conditions and likely giving them a substitute for human meat. He even submits us to a gruesome scene, as we learn the answer for survival. It’s then snuffed out before our eyes, further devolving society. Maybe we if stopped arguing about the trivial issues we could save the world. It’s a sheer injustice in film when a man like Romero continued churning out such a sharp morality tale and was raked over the coals for still very relevant social and political themes. Romero, in his final days, continued delivering his socially relevant and brilliant horror parables, building a stark universe, rich stories and subtext that echoes even today.
It’s a shame Romero never could complete the second trilogy of his “Dead” Saga, but “Survival” is a strong note Romero is able to go out on, and still watches well. I look forward to the day we can turn to it for wisdom like we still do with “Dawn” and “Day.”