Toronto Film Festival – Day #3 – Anything Can Happen Day starring Romero’s feudin’ Irish zombies!

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on September 18, 2009

This happens a lot at film festivals: You intend on seeing a film (let’s say THE INVENTION OF LYING). But you go to the wrong theater. Then you figure you’ll see CREATION or GET LOW as an alternative. But since it’s too far to walk or the film’s running time is too long and timing-wise you absolutely cannot miss George Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD…you wind up ducking in to see a Spanish/Colombian film called RABIA.

And you have no idea what the movie is about.

Because film festivals can be fun when you know how!

So, just as I sit down and settle in to accept my mystery movie fate, I tune in to a conversation about script development straight out of THE PLAYER taking place in the seats behind me. “I loved the first draft. The middle drafts lost the comedy, but it’s so hard to be funny when you’re dealing with character and structure.” “But the book is SO funny. It’s like joke, joke, joke.”

Yes, I’m sure it is. Too bad those damn characters and three act structure prevents your writer from being funny…

Finally, the film starts. Directed by Sebastián Cordero, the film also has Guillermo del Toro as a producer. However, there are so many names of producers and executive producers on this thing that I thought for sure my name was up there too for a moment.

Anyway, the film begins with a little post-coital pillow talk with a Colombian couple, José Maria and Rosa. It’s all afterglow billing and cooing until the “How many girlfriends have you had?” and “How many boyfriends have you had?” question comes up. Because José Maria, uhhh…not so much with the sense of humor. Then as he walks her to work, a couple guys in a repair shop make with the eyes and what have you. So, naturally, on the way back he beats the living crap out of them.

Make that no sense of humor and some hot button issues about “his girl”, capped with a nasty temper. Trifecta! It’s like we’ve got the Colombian version of Mark Wahlberg in FEAR.

Now, Rosa is a maid for a very well off couple living in a house so big there are literally rooms and parts of the house that people forget are there. This comes very much in handy after José Maria punches the construction foreman and accidentally kills him after the man fires him for beating up the first guy. Powder keg angry dude just can’t catch a break.

What are you going to do with a problem like José Maria? In Rosa’s case, you become pregnant and not-so-blissfully unaware that he is hiding in the rich people mansion you live in. Watching you and your charges, ever ready to pounce on a drunken relative making a pass or sexually assaulting you. Like an overprotective, getting hairier by the week and month, ghost.

To its credit, the film delivers a nice balance between the ever-present threat he poses to everyone in the house but Rosa and his own misunderstood, poverty-ridden and isolated situation. While it doesn’t entirely succeed, there is an effort to aim for the tragic versus the full-on thriller aspects of the story. And, there is a legitimate effort to steer away from simple cat and mouse suspense and thrills, in favor of a more real and humane dilemma the two protagonists face. Ultimately, however, I found it somewhat slight.

Time to bring on the zombies!

George A. Romero’s SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD picks up with some rogue military characters from his last outing, DIARY OF THE DEAD. Which is an interesting and cool idea. “Hey, I wonder what happened to those guys?” “Well, let’s make an entirely different movie where we follow THEM!”

And we do. To a place called Plum Island, Delaware dealing with its own private little zombie problem. You see, the island has been home for generations of two feuding Irish families, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. And now the zombies have become caught in the middle of a bizarre custody battle as the O’Flynn patriarch wants to kill each one of them and the Muldoon patriarch wants to pen them up until a cure can be found.

After Muldoon gets the upper hand and kicks O’Flynn off the island (without even a hint of a tribal vote), O’Flynn posts what amounts to a travel brochure ad online to lure the living or anyone that still has Wi-Fi his way. The military group takes the bait and after some zombie aided fighting and mayhem, O’Flynn is back on his way to reclaim his island and take on Muldoon.

So what are we looking for in a Romero “Dead” film? New, fun and innovative ways to kill zombies? Check. At least one case of someone showing poor zombie survival etiquette of getting infected but not telling anyone until it’s practically too late? Check. Tons of dumbass human behavior inspiring you to root for zombie comeuppance? Check. At least one case of someone becoming a human buffet line? Check. Message about the dead being just like us only literally trapped in our daily routine and with an unappealing pallor and/or gaping wound somewhere? Big check. And, of course, it wouldn’t be complete until some disgruntled guy turns a shitload of zombies loose on everyone because he’s dying and what does he care anymore? Right?

Romero hits all of the notes he’s required by zombie law to deliver in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, but it’s all at the service of so much silliness. First off, if anything was more lethal than the zombie virus, it would be the dinner theater Irish brogues thrown around between the two patriarchs. And, at some point a twin is revealed so we can have the human/zombie mirror effect for reals before the entire thing devolves into a shootout at the It’s Not Okay to be a Zombie Corral.

So, as I weigh all the good versus the bad and the entertaining versus the dubious, I have to think this is a step back from DIARY OF THE DEAD. This film strikes me as being closer to LAND OF THE DEAD in that the sheen of unreality makes it difficult to either get caught up within the dread of the moment or have any connection to the central characters to inspire concern for their well being. Not a total loss as there is clearly still more than a twinkle in Romero’s eye as he maps these things out. Unfortunately, we need a lot more than that by this point.