July 1, 2005
A Kinder, Gentler, Zombie Film
Dear readers, I know what you've been thinking: "Hey! Land of the Dead came out a week ago - why has Amy's Robot been silent on this, the most important film release of the year?"
It's because we've been thinking a lot about it. The post-9/11 zombie film has brought many changes to the conventional model - faster zombies, scarier zombies, gorier zombies. And now, at last, George Romero has brought us a kinder, gentler zombie.
By which I mean, it blows.
Yes, that's right Roger Ebert, and David Edelstein, and Manohla freaking Dargis: it blows. There was no story arc, the characters were uninteresting, the zombies weren't scary, and even the flesh-eating money shots weren't very inventive. But all of these problems stem from the core issue: the greatest, and most unforgivable, crime of this movie is that it goes against the entire zombie ethos.
Land of the Dead is set years into the zombie plague. Dennis Hopper has annexed a luxury tower in lower Manhattan for the rich and privileged while the rabble entertain themselves in Bartertown, using zombies for target practice and cage matches. But wait! You can't just push zombies around! They have feelings too, and a sense of justice - and when one of them realizes how to use power tools, he leads a zombie insurgence through the city. Why? Because it turns out that zombies just want to be left alone, to live (unlive?) out their days in peace. They just want to find a place to go, just like the living!
Except, of course, that ZOMBIES EXIST TO EAT LIVING FLESH! Has everyone forgotten this?! For christ's sake, you can't live in peace with the zombies! If you want to make a movie about ideological warfare, then just use bugs! Or monkeys! Or - or rabbits!
This hurts me very deeply, because the zombie genre is my very favorite of film types. It combines every great social paranoia - fear of the supernatural, alien invasion, disaster, disease, slashers, the total loss of social order - in one deliciously gory package.
A zombie with a purpose completely deflates the whole premise of the genre. Zombies feed on our fear of the irrational. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why is this happening? Why are they eating the living? How do I defend myself? Who can I trust? Will I become one? Zombies don't have motivations, or desires (beyond the need to eat the living). They are a threat because they can't be rationalized or explained. And that is why they make such effective social commentary - because they reflect human nature in the face of complete chaos.
I know that the reviewers I mentioned above in this post would be all "But you don't get it!" Yeah, I get it - it just doesn't work. Yes, I know Romero is commenting on our militaristic culture and man's inhumanity to man and the class divide and blah blah blah. You know what? Every twelve-year-old knows the proper vehicle for that shit is aliens!
You want to show how people deal with the complete breakdown of society? You want to show what people will do to survive? You want to show some intestines getting ripped out? Well, then you make a zombie movie.
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