Survival of the Dead, the sixth installment in George A. Romero’s long-running horror serial (est. 1967), follows Sarge Crockett (Alan Van Sprang) as he leads his gone-rogue unit of National Guardsmen from the zombie-pestilent mainland to “Plum Island, Delaware.” There, the returned departed are feuded over by two family-armies led by Kenneth Welsh and Richard Fitzpatrick’s Irish patriarchs.
Once ashore the island, seemingly preserved in the 1880s, Romero piles on plotlines and Western tropes: six-shooters, an Anthony Mann Oedipal ranch hand, a bona fide scalping, and a homo-flirty mentor-student rapport between Van Sprang and Devon Bostick, an orphaned teen he picked up. Bostick’s character allows 70-year-old Romero to continue his uncomprehending fascination with gadget-addicted Millennials talking about things “on the ‘Net,’ ” which made Diary of the Dead excruciating assurance that Survival could only possibly be the second-worst Dead movie. Romero’s own embrace of new technology includes silly CGI violence like a noggin blown clean away, leaving the scalp to plop on the neck stump, or zombie eyeballs sproinging out of sockets like novelty glasses.
The script reunites the writer-director’s familiar preoccupations with the family-as-hell, creeping Catholicism, and stock rednecks, here camping with a “Keep Away” perimeter of African-American zombie heads on stakes. This race war provocation is as wild-pitch as Survival‘s evocation of Irish Troubles, mounting evidence of plain-muddled filmmaking. The inevitable all-you-can-eat orgy of zombies pulling stringy mouthfuls away from red, wet rib cages may satisfy gorehounds, but big set pieces showing how atrophied Romero’s cutting and tactical framing have become is depressing to anyone who has valued his films for more than just splatter. At best, Survival‘s ending, with a riff on “beating a dead horse,” may be taken for evidence of self-awareness.