Monday, October 1, 2012

Survival of the Dead (2012 Horror Challenge)

This is one of those movies that just frustrates the hell out of me. Seriously. Watching a bad horror movie is one thing, but I've been watching George Romero's movies since I was ten years old, and I KNOW he knows better than this. First of all, he starts with the least interesting character (and the most wooden actor even out of a cast full of actors who played DEAD PEOPLE) from "Diary of the Dead" in order to build a whole movie around the guy, then he gives the guy a ton of exposition-heavy speeches where he waxes philosophical in his wooden voice, and I want to turn the movie off after five minutes.

Then the action jumps to a small island town with a whole new set of characters without any preamble, and I don't know what the hell is going on, but it might be sort of interesting if the actors in THIS part of the movie would stop chewing the scenery long enough to help engage me in the story of a longtime feud between two families who basically run a small village and don't know what to do when all their friends and family start to die and come back as zombies. The patriarch of one family wants to kill all the dead people and stop the plague that way, and the patriarch of the other family wants to allow the dead people to live in hopes of learning to live in peace with them (as my friend Danielle said "Yeah, until they EAT your ass") and it turns into a lot of infighting and a lot of shooting and a man exiled from the island that has been his home for over sixty years, and all of this would be very touching and moving if the movie would stop for ten second to let the audience in on whatever the hell is going on here.

After about 45 minutes that feel like 45 hours, the action shifts again and it becomes clear that the movie is going to be about the group of rogue soldiers, led by bad actor guy, who converge on the island lead by over-the-top actor guy, and get in the middle of the big decades-old feud and make things worse and cause some kind of resolution. After this point, there are a lot of long character speeches from one character after another that infodump all over us and are supposed to explain what happened in the small island town to create the situation that we have today, but they really don't do much but screech the action to a halt while we, the audience, check our watches and wish we were watching a better movie.

So what's my problem with this movie? My problem is that it's not about bad acting, or budget constraints, or a story that stretches the limits of believably, or even a heavy-handed message (or two, or thirteen). I know that George Romero can work around those things and still deliver a horror movie that's not a jumbled mess. He's worked before with actors who perhaps aren't the best (in the original "Night of the Living Dead") or misplaced "comic relief" that is more tedious than funny (in "Dawn of the Dead") or a heavy-handed message that almost winds up sinking the movie (in "Day of the Dead") or actors who chew big holes in the scenery while they grandstand their way through one scene after another (in "Land of the Dead") or many plot threads converging to tell one convoluted story of the world coming to an end (in "Diary of the Dead") and he's always managed to handle those constraints in such a way that the resulting movie rises above whatever is trying to pull it down and becomes worth watching after all. In "Survival of the Dead," it's like he's not even trying anymore. It's almost like he's sitting back, on a huge pile of money, saying "how shitty can I make this movie and still have people watch it?"

The movie isn't all bad. That's what pisses me off the most. There are good actors here, and characters I cared about and would have liked to get to know better, and there is an abundance of good gore, and there are story threads I would have liked to follow, like the daughter who grew up in the small island town and always wanted to make her father proud, or the man who wants to follow the old-time tradition of honoring relatives who have passed on by keeping them close (even if he is played by Overactor Supreme, and even if his idea of "keeping the dead close" involves shackling their zombified bodies in the yard instead of treasuring their memories in our hearts). I like the message that sometimes it's more important to some people to BE right than to DO what's right, and how this can get even more convoluted when the world is crashing down around us in horrific ways. I get what the movie is trying to say, and I even agree, but I'm not buying it, because the mangled movie surrounding the message is more about "mess" than "message."

I wanted to like this movie. Yes, everyone said it was terrible, but everyone said the same thing about "Diary of the Dead" and I loved that movie, so I didn't come in here wanting to hate this movie. Pissing and moaning about little things like overacting, or bad acting, or long infodump-y speeches that take the place of insightful storytelling, or how the one guy who's supposedly a ranch hand who grew up in the small island town has a heavy southern accent, even though everyone else in town has a heavy Irish accent (and one guy has a heavy British accent, almost like the movie's requirements were that in order to play a townperson, you had to have a heavy accent, but we don't care what kind of accent it is, because we think the movie's audience will be too stupid to notice the difference). Those seem like small things, but when you add them up, you get a movie that could have been ten times better if it ever bothered to pull its head out of its ass, and the fact that it didn't bother makes me wish I hadn't bothered to watch it.

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