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Friday, May 28, 2010

Film Review: George A. Romero's Survival Of The Dead

I love movies.  I love attending the film festival (TIFF) every year.  And every so often, I like writing a review of some of the flicks I've managed to see.  Last fall, at the Toronto International Film Festival, I had the honour of seeing zombie master Romero's latest offering in his saga of the undead, Survival of the Dead.  In honour of its theatrical release (finally), here is the review I wrote after having enjoyed a Midnight Madness screening of its world premiere.

George A. Romero's Survival Of The Dead

The first Romero flick I had the pleasure of experiencing in the theatre was the premiere of Diary of the Dead at TIFF's Midnight Madness extravaganza a few years ago. I'd started getting brave and going alone, and this was my first experience not only seeing the master in person, but also walking among a virtual hoarde of zombies, instead of just one or two at a time.

To my delight, zombies once again walked the red carpet for the midnight premiere of Survival at TIFF, but this time the experience was precipitated by a Special Edition Zombie Walk at Yonge Dundas Square, as a unique way of promoting the film, and also to officially welcome our brand new Canadian citizen to his Toronto home.

I really had no idea what the film was about this time (it didn't even have a title until just recently, as evidenced by its poster, which simply read, "...Of The Dead"), just that there would be zombies. And lots of them. Once again, we were not disappointed. And once again, the master managed to add a lot more than just the undead legions to his latest creation.

The film starts out getting us acquainted with a character many would recognize from his short but memorable appearance as 'Nicotine' Crocket (played by Alan Van Sprang) in Romero's last zombie fest, the aforementioned Diary of the Dead. However, aside from a hilarious flashback to that previous appearance (done from Crocket's point of view), this film takes a distinctly different turn from Romero's other forrays into a zombie-infested world.

We are introduced to the members of two separate families, the Muldoons and the O'Flynns, all living on a picturesque little island off the coast of North America. The families have been feuding for longer than anyone can remember, and it stands to reason that, even with the zombie threat overwhelming them, their feud would not only continue, but actually heighten in its intensity.

Their main point of contention now? Whether or not the zombies deserve to die - again. The O'Flynns are all about protecting the living, and executing the undead as quickly and effectively as possible. The Muldoons, however, feel differently about the walking deceased. They argue that the zombies are still people....that they are their mothers and brothers and even children. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to find a way for everyone, alive and not-so-much alike, to live together. Preferably without killing and/or eating one another.

Very early on in the film, we are shown a small family farmhouse, where a couple are getting ready to end the night and go to bed. The O'Flynns arrive, however, and start asking questions about the couple's children. Apparently their young daughter had taken a fall on her bike, and when their even younger son had gone to help, he was accidentally hit by a car, killing him. The O'Flynns have come to ensure that he remains dead. They are interrupted in their quest, however, by the arrival of the Muldoons, who would like everyone to be left alone to live their lives.

The resulting exchange launches us into the ultimate debate which is truly at the heart of this story. When the dead rise and walk the earth again, what would you do? Would you, despite your grief and loss, be able to be the executioner of your own mother? Your brother? Your best friend? Your only child? Would you be able to accept responsibility for their second, and more permanent, death? Or would you try to find a way to keep them around, just a little longer?

I was quite impressed with how much emotion I experienced while watching this movie. I went for the zombie-fied fun, but ended up leaving with a lot to think about, and realized that none of it is really as clear-cut as we'd like to believe. In the colourful, blood-and-gore-filled world that he'd created, George A. Romero has added several shades of gray. He's given us zombies who appear to possibly have a soul, and has shown us some of the undescribable ugliness evident in humankind, even when disaster strikes. Not every living survior is a hero. And not every walking dead is a monster.

With Survival of the Dead, Romero proves why he is the master, still at the top of his game, and still with so much to say. This latest installment in his zombie epic raises no fewer questions for the viewer than did the rest.

So, ask yourself: When zombies walk the earth, who will you side with? The living? Or the dead?

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