Survival of the Dead
George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead is a direct sequel to Diary of the Dead, which itself was a modern day reboot of his ‘Dead’ mythos.
The O’Flynns and the Muldoons are two feuding Irish families on the isolated, Plum Island. When the dead start coming back, the patriarchs of the two families disagree on how they should be dealt with. Patrick O’Flynn takes the pragmatic approach that most heroes in zombie movies do: he kills them all. Seamus Muldoon, on the other hand, is not so quick to give up on his dead relatives. He says something about this being related to judgment day, although the concept isn’t really articulated.
Muldoon wins the people’s hearts and minds, and O’Flynn is exiled. He eventually returns, along with three deserted National Guardsmen, and one woman, whom we are told over and over again is a lesbian (remember writers: show, don’t tell).
If there’s one constant in Romero’s (and most zombie) films, it’s that any attempt to control or contain the dead will always fail. While O’Flynn’s methods may be heartless, we know that they are also the safest. Muldoon’s attempts to reform the dead by turning them on to alternate food sources is failing, and the frustration drives him to start killing his disappointing test subjects; objective reality having shown him that his rival was at least somewhat right.
And yet, Muldoon persists. His stated reason for this is hope. The hope that one day a cure will be found, and that they will be judged good by god for having preserved ‘life.’ Yet, the baser reason for his persistence is simple stubbornness. Near the end of the movie, after the inevitable zombie ‘jail-break’ that results in bodies littered across the ground, Muldoon holds a gun to O’Flynn, demanding that he admit that Muldoon was right, and O’Flynn was wrong. Even while standing on a pile of gooey evidence to the contrary, Muldoon needs to prove he is better than his rival.
Perhaps the theme of the movie is that hate persists. No matter the circumstances, no matter the evidence, the rivalry between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the human need to prove our superiority to others, continues. O’Flynn says something to the effect that, even after you die, you still are who you are; a concept that comes into play in the final scene.
Tonally, Survival of the Dead is a departure from Romero’s other zombie films. It’s very light, most of it takes place in the day, and the setting is idyllic farm land. The zombie make-up is sparse, I guess because they are recently dead, so they mostly just look pale. The kills are a bit cartoonish, using a lot of CGI.
If you’re looking for horror, or deep social commentary, you’ll probably be disappointed. But if you want a nice little intimate story with beautiful scenery, likable characters, and some zombies in it, Survival of the Dead is a nice change of pace from the norms of its genre. It’s the matinee zombie movie.