The zombie universe of George Romero has been growing more contained with each passing entry in the series. Land of the Dead (2005), while essentially a glorified action film, still expands the scope of the narrative through deafening references to political and social satire occurring on a grand level. The evil of corporate consumerism turns to artistic revolt in Diary of the Dead (2007), which inverses Romero’s standard genre guise by pushing both the plot and character development/commentary into the maddeningly artificial world of the Internet. Both films contain a number of fascinating critiques of Bush-era doctrine and declining human rights, yet each fails to reach the narrative potency of Romero’s earlier Horror films.
Now comes Survival of the Dead, an even more straightforward continuation involving a band of rouge National Guardsmen seen briefly in Diary of the Dead. It’s two weeks since the beginning of the apocalypse and Romero jettisons his lead characters toward isolationist refuge on Plum Island, a possible safe-haven off the coast of Delaware. But the island contains its own bitter feud between two Irish families battling for political and social control over the Island’s future prospects. Romero’s contrived plot yields little new material, but his care-free attitude toward pacing makes Survival of the Dead feel seamlessly grotesque, as if the world has finally absurdly caved in on itself.
The competing points of view on morality and sacrifice create the film’s only biting satire, a hardened look at modern day slavery, human instinct, and political oppression. During the film’s daring middle act, Romero pushes these thematics front and center, daring the viewer to identify the subtext in the leftover carnage and mayhem. But Survival of the Dead turns stale during the poorly-paced climax, failing both as critique and cinema, bastardizing Western iconography by hollowing out the genre’s authenticity and ideology.
Survival of the Dead ends with a stunningly iconic image of conflict, but instead of signifying tangible depth it highlights Romero’s progression toward centralized indulgence. Romero has long been a director of great vision, yet his stories are growing increasingly repetitive, benignly horrific during times of universal unrest. More than ever, we need him to redefine his gaze.