We all know that this Halloween will not look like other Halloweens from years past. And yet, the month of October waits for us all the same. It is about time we put the spirit of Halloween back into that abandoned department store that we call the year of 2020. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together a curated, month-long series called Screen Screams. This time, we will be covering all things zombies. For this review, we look at George A. Romero’s return to the genre after several decades: Land of the Dead.
After the release of Day of the Dead in 1985, George Romero wouldn’t return to his iconic zombie series for 20 years. Night, Dawn, and Day are all titans of the genre. I can only imagine the excitement of horror fans around the globe when it was announced that Romero would make his return to the film series that launched his career with 2005’s Land of the Dead.
That said, any excitement goes away once you actually witness the languid, cold corpse of Land. Without Romero’s illustrious name, this film is no different from any mid-tier action flick from the mid-00s. A quick premise: with the country overrun by the dead, a new society has emerged. In this society, the upper class lives in luxury in a protected tower. Meanwhile, the lower class scrape by in the city streets below. The restless horde of zombies and blue-collar citizens fighting for a better life converge in the most flaccid critique of power.
By far the most disappointing aspect was the characters. In Land, they don’t talk to each other so much as lob narrative beats and plot points at each other. The script evokes a screenwriting student who only endeavored to put to page the exact beats he was taught. At no point does it twist the formula into an original and compelling script. We went from Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille), the lone female character in Day who fought against corruption and was emblematic of the struggle against workplace sexism, to Land‘s Slack (Asia Argento), the lone female character who exists to look hot and fawn over protagonist Riley (Simon Baker). Don’t even get me started on the grossly stereotyped Latino characters and how the only two Black characters are a zombie and a butler.
The scares and cinematography lack the electricity of the earlier films as well. This film reminds me of when the Resident Evil games pivoted away from survival horror into generic action fare. In fact, the whole film reminded me of any FPS with a white man holding a gun on the cover. All the gunfights in the world can’t save you from this central tenet of horror films: scares are never secondary. The cinematography lends itself to this. Are we in a military setting? Use murky yellow lighting. Is it night? Silver and blue. Each shot is utilitarian, conveying only the barest of meaning, rather than painting a picture.
This movie isn’t bad, just excessively mediocre. Cool moments, such as the pastor zombie who uses his head as a flail or the shot of the horde of undead rising from the river, lose their luster because of how bland everything else is. There are dozens of films just like this one, and it’s disappointing that Romero’s follow up to Day of the Dead was a mere shadow of his previous films. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare this film to its predecessors, but when an original film series takes a turn for the generic, it more than warrants close interrogation. – Audrey Griffin
Land of the Dead is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.