a critiQal film review Land of the Dead (2005)

Plot: Years after the dead begin to rise, the flesh-eating zombies have forced humanity into a walled city, Forest Green. A few soldiers, like Riley (Baker) and Cholo (Leguizamo) still venture outside the city, scrounging up what food they can for the people back home. But, when their worst fears come true, and the mindless zombies begin to reason, what hope does humanity have?

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  • ...a film one would expect from a competitor, not from the zombie master himself.

After spawning a generation of imitators with his classic films that started with Night of the Living Dead (1968), George A. Romero has ventured forth once again into filmland to bring us Land of the Dead.

Throwing in a couple of stars (Leguizamo and Hopper), George A. Romero introduces a new twist into the zombie pic – zombies that think. Will this spawn a whole new generation of films, or has Romero passed his prime?

Simon Baker, who seems familiar but who isn’t easy to place (ah yes, from Most Wanted and The Ring Two (2005)), stars as soldier-with-a-heart Riley. He is well-cast, showcasing a softer side that tries to show through no matter what horrors are thrust upon him.

John Leguizamo turns in a surprisingly good performance as Cholo, a man who seems to just want a place of his own, and will go to any lengths to achieve it. While usually not the best of actors (his performance in Spawn (1997) was simply atrocious), he seems at his best as a man who is skating a thin line between good and evil, and his performance in Land of the Dead showcases that perfectly.

Dennis Hopper, as the wealthy owner of most of the property in the last human city, does of good job of showcasing a quiet evil – a man who floats among the rich, yet seems to have a bit of a demon lurking just under the surface. For fun, be on the look-out for Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (co-writer/star and co-writer/director of zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004)) in cameo performances as a couple of zombies!

The plot, while adding a new twist to the zombie genre (thinking zombies!) seems to be unsure as to which direction Land of the Dead goes in. Rather than just concentrating on how the heroes are going to combat the new breed of zombies, the movie spins into a subplot involving Riley and Cholo. It’s a little confusing for the viewer, as the film goes off on this other tangent, instead of concentrating on the inventive idea of reasoning zombies. Sure, they pop up off and on every other scene or so, but seem more of an aside to the film rather than the main theme.

Instead, Land of the Dead is more of a social commentary on how, even in the worst situations, mankind will not pull together as a cohesive unit, but will actually tear themselves apart. It’s an interesting (and rather depressing) view of the world, but it would have worked better as an aside to the film, not the main theme. The war between humans and zombies should have been the main focus, not just the backdrop.

The special effects in Land of the Dead are hideously graphic with their visceral imagery of flesh-eating zombies. Watching the zombies snack on the living will make most viewers slightly queasy, especially as the zombies seem to focus on stringy, bloody material that, while not being defined, definitely allows the mind to conjure up grotesque visions of tendons and/or intestines being ripped from the flesh. While some of the makeup looks ridiculously fake in the bright light of day (seen in the special features on the DVD), shroud it in near darkness and it becomes frighteningly realistic.

While Land of the Dead is a worthwhile entry in the zombie genre, it’s almost a disappointment coming from zombie king George A. Romero himself. True, it does have John Leguizamo at his best, and the zombie effects are hideously gruesome, but it’s original idea of reasoning-zombies is ill-used at best.

If the film had focused more on how to combat this new threat to an already depleted population, the film could have become a classic along the lines of Romero’s previous efforts in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

As it is, it’s more on a line with Romero’s imitators – in fact some of those imitators (like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Dawn of the Dead (2004)) surpass Land of the Dead.

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