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George A. Romero
Eugene Clark……….Big Daddy
Joanne Boland……….Pretty Boy
George Romero has been gone a long time. His last film was Bruiser back in 2000, and more likely than not most have never heard of it. He’s really known as the innovator of all things zombie, and with good reason. He is credited with creating the genre back with Night of the Living Dead in the 60’s. Romero followed that up a decade later with Dawn of the Dead, considered by most to be the greatest zombie film ever made. He continued with Day of the Dead, creating a trilogy of zombie films, and while Day is not quite as great as the first two films, it definitely belongs with them. Now, twenty years later, Romero returns to zombie horror with high expectations and anticipation among fans of his work and horror fans in general. Thankfully, Romero not only succeeds here, but he hits this one out of the park.
The film is set in continuity established by all of the earlier Dead films. Back in the day, about forty years or so, zombies began showing up all over the place. People weren’t sure what was going on, but they quickly figured it out as everyone was being eatten alive. Flash forward twenty years or so, and man is experimenting on said zombies while trying to stay alive, military style. The audience also gets to see for the first time a hint that the zombies may someday evolve to be, at least partially, intelligent creatures, and heaven help the remaining world when they do. Well, enter present day, and the world is basically lost. Zombies are everywhere, and the remaining humans, at least those this film focuses on, survive in a walled-in, defendable city. Parties of hunters, guys like Riley and Cholo, go out into the abandoned towns to get supplies and such for everyone else in the city, while dealing with the zombies.
Life in the city is cut right down the middle – the rich and everyone else. Those who have the ‘comfortable life’ in the city live in Fiddler’s Green, a fantastic, towering building with everything from restaurants to mini-malls. The building, and the city, is run by a man named Kaufman, who will do what he has to to make sure he remains on top of his world. Everyone not ‘privledged’ enough to live in the Green do whatever they can to survive in the streets. Prostitution, gambling, and everything else run rampant as people just try to make a decent enough “living” to wake up the next day. This is very obvious social commentary on Romero’s behalf, and like his films before this, it works incredibly well. In fact, almost everything works well in this film.
The acting here is supurb, and while Romero picked and chose from a list of B-actors in status, these men and women are anything but B-actors in talent. It’s refreshing for a horror film to be so dedicated to fleshing out its characters (well, some) and making their evolution a focal point of the film. Everyone here has a story, a background that serves as the reason why they are the way they are. Riley is the best hero one could hope to be with, though he would rather you think his was a pain-free past. Cholo is an asshole, but one understands why he is an asshole. Slack is a bit deeper than your normal prostitute, and it just goes from there. Everyone plays their characters incredibly well, and it isn’t long before the audience is invested in these people, either with love or hate, and feels emotion when someone gets taken out. It’s so refreshing to see the man who started it all come back today and show everyone how characters should be handled in a film.
Romero is also known for his gore, and this film holds up to those standards. This is an R-rated horror film, and then some. Fans who expect intenstines to be pulled out and people to be bloodily eatten alive can rest easy. This film is scary. Forget all of that running zombie bullshit from Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later (If you can even call that a zombie film). These are the slow-moving zombies just like they’re supposed to be. Well, almost. Time has caused this creatures to evolve, like everything does, and if zombies alone aren’t enough, imagine zombies with instincts and the capability of thought (however primative). It is terrifying. This actually brings up the point that this film is just as much a story of the zombies as it is about the humans. The survivors are complacent, and they continually invade the zombie territory, killing for fun and sport as well as survival as they pass. The zombies, it could be argued, as just existing in their own land, and defending themselves when challenged again and again. It doesn’t necessarily make the zombies overly sympathetic, but it is harder to feel for the lazy, insensative, rich humans when the time comes and they are running for their lives (not so much a spoiler really – what else does one expect to happen here?) This does lead to one very controversial ending, and while this reviewer had a bit of a hard time enjoying it, that will be left up to individuals to judge on their own.
The film is fantastic, but not flawless. The movie gets off to a fantastic start in every possible way, but still the pacing seems off, especially towards the latter half of the film. It feels like Romero was forced to cut pieces of this story and leave them on the floor. Characters feel criminally under-developed. Plot points, and sub-plots feel shallow or missing, respectfully. Perhaps Romero was forced to make his cuts, but whatever the reason, the film never really flows like it should, and it’s a shame. However, most will find these to be minor gripes in an otherwise fantastic film. Rumors abound that this is the start of a whole new zombie film series for Romero. Bring them on; there’s little doubt now that this man, this innovator, cannot deliver the goods he promises.