Recently, the Good Doctor (Kermode) was wondering whether he was unable to be afraid, or whether films now were just not scary. This was in the background of my mind when grandexperiment and I sat down last night to watch Romero’s latest zombie offering Survival of the Dead. He pretty much invented the genre which has come to play a worrying role in modern society. I was terrified when I first watched the original Night of the Living Dead, which remains an affecting horror film, but recently, and especially with Diary of the Dead… I’m just not that scared any more.
Well, the film opens with a scene about how divisive the undead can be in a society. The dead are rising on a remote island, and one clan believes they should be put down while another segment believes they are still alive: conflict. However, I think these scenes fail to really punch home the latent anger and pain inherent in the long-standing feud between the clans, for which this is just one more incident in a long history. The scenes play out almost calmly, with emotions firmly suppressed, pushed below the surface. In effect, we’re being told about the conflict through the mechanics of the scene, we’re not being shown.
The emotional power of the film is thus stillborn, because it starts with a scene of ultimate jeopardy that has no impact: I wasn’t expecting to see anything more visceral and intense than the confrontation in those scenes, and I didn’t. Event play out, and I think that they’re structurally sound: conflicts of the right type, the right mix of characters, confrontation and challenges… but you can’t get invested or care about any of it because you’re never behind the masks the characters wear.
This made it impossible to feel terror or its close friend pity, or, indeed, much of anything. A workmanlike effort, that I think really needed to take the gloves off and really pound the audience through the characters. The material is all there, just needed to take itself a bit more seriously.