I never thought it would happen, but I have reached an impasse. I no longer wish to watch zombie movies. Oh, sure, there’s still the odd example of a decent, well-worked movie (such as Pontypool) but by and large, zombies have become the preserve of lazy filmmakers. It’s perceived as an easy ride; all you need are some shambling ghouls and you’ve got it made. Film students with no interest whatsoever in horror are asked to put together a horror short – guess what they’re going to do…people with no budget and little to spend on SFX, guess what they’re going to do…zombie movies have lost their edge, no longer impress upon me any sense of threat or urgency, and – running, shambling, crawling on ceilings, learning how to communicate – I do not care.
The zombie cause is not being helped by the fact that the man who birthed the genre continues to make films. George, we love you – but enough. Yes, last night I got around to watching Romero’s latest effort, Survival of the Dead. Not only do I wish I hadn’t, but I wish he hadn’t. Every time Romero churns out another bad movie – and make no mistake, Land, Diary and Survival are bad movies – the impression grows that he isn’t some cool auteur, the man whose apocalyptic vision changed horror forever. It starts to feel like he just got lucky. Were NOTLD, Dawn and Day just flukes? Say it ain’t so, but how the same filmmaker can follow up these films at any point in the future with something like Survival is hard to explain away.
Survival is a few ideas for grisly CGI zombie slayings pegged together with a story of sorts: a group of soldiers (one of whom is a random publically masturbating lesbian soldier, but of course) are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse by milling around in middle America, contemporary with the documentary-making fucknuts from Diary of the Dead – we even bump into them, just to hammer home the fact that this is early on in the zombie apocalypse, which you mightn’t else glean from the plot. Elsewhere, on an island, two warring Irish families eject one of the patriarchs for a misdemeanour, sending him off by boat with some of his cronies. He meets up with the soldiers, and they return to the island. Zombies are an impediment. And that’s pretty much it.
There is no sense of pace here whatsoever: the story-of-sorts limps along, devoid of impetus or tension. The zombies themselves are sort of incidental; occasionally, the cast stop to dispatch some, and through immense stupidity a couple of folk get bitten. One is even to be seen riding around on horseback. It seems to me like some novel ideas for zombie killings predated the plot by some time, and were made to fit, at the cost of (again!) a decent script or performances. The immense vendetta between the O’Flynns and the Muldoons is unbelievable, their characters barely there as they mouth ham-fisted Irish phrases which could have come straight out of Father Ted. And their big idea here – to encourage zombies to eat other things by shutting some of them in a horse pen – doesn’t go anywhere. How would this work? Why would this work now? What comes of it – zombies turning into nuisance poachers? Is this going to form the bedrock of another sequel?
That’s just one example of where the plot falls apart, though. Romero fails to create workable action here, but finds the time to do what he did so embarrassingly in Diary: he shows that he’s down with the kids by drafting in a frankly awful teen character and spending time passing comment on new-fangled technology, with the teen character mocking a guy for using an old-fashioned laptop when he could be using a smartphone. Tuh, get with the times, man! The end of the world is happening all around you, and you’re spending time with obsolete gadgetry. Does any of this need a mention in the script, and did any of the self-conscious mentions of Myspace and Youtube in Diary feel anything but cringeworthy? George, we don’t need you to try to appeal to the youth demographic; we want you to make good movies, or to stop making bad ones, so that your reputation as a great director remains intact. That would appeal to all age groups – as it always has.
So Survival of the Dead has hammered another nail into my enjoyment of zombie movies, and I’m sad to say so. I now dread further sequels as much as I’d dread the walking dead themselves…if the originator of the genre is setting the bar this low, what hope do we have?