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A Pleasantly Diverting Return for the Living ‘Dead’

Nobody is going to confuse Survival of the Dead, George Romero’s sixth entry in his ongoing saga about animated corpses scouring the land for living flesh, with the director’s most polished or insightful work. As a satirist, he’s covering familiar ground, reinforcing the notion first broached in the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) that zombies and their human prey are equally dangerous predators. Yet his gift for storytelling remains undiminished.

This time around, Romero continues the latest chapter of the narrative he began with Diary of the Dead (2007), in which student filmmakers brave the ghoul-infested Pittsburgh suburbs and, armed with video cameras and image-capturing cell phones, produce a cautionary chronicle of their own demise.

Survival follows a group of rogue National Guardsmen they encounter along the way – minor nuisances in Diary, fleshed out here to reveal themselves as rough but not unreasonable human beings. Savages they’re not, but find them they do, on an island off the Delaware coast, where rival Irish families are waging war on two fronts – against the zombies and each other.

Romero’s point, as relevant today as it was when he unveiled his nightmarish vision at the height of America’s involvement in Vietnam, is clear: We are the problem, not the solution. Yet rather than hammering the idea into the ground with ponderous speechifying, as he did in Diary, he lets the mayhem speak for itself in Survival.

Whether that’s enough to satisfy critics who have come to expect more from Romero remains to be seen. The early returns suggest that it’s not, but give the director credit for taking a chance with this latest installment.

Fashioned after a classic Western (a series first) and loaded with appealingly cheesy, low-budget gore (a series staple), Survival is a campy if somewhat superfluous diversion. Funnier than it is scary, it serves notice that Romero has lost none of his ability to entertain, even if his bloody yarns seem stretched a tad thinner than they used to be.