Land of the Dead (2005)

(On TV, July 2017) Writer/director George Romero may be acknowledged as a defining figure of the zombie horror subgenre, but his movies became steadily more generic as time went on. Some of this can’t be blamed on him as much as the subgenre evolving beyond Romero’s vision. His fourth zombie film, Land of the Dead, was released in 2005, for instance, a year that saw somewhere between 22 and 28 other zombie movies. That’s also one year after 2004, an acknowledged peak year which saw the release of such modern zombie classics as Dawn of the Dead (remake) and Shaun of the Dead, and arguably the start of a zombie craze that hasn’t yet abated. In that context, Land of the Dead feels … ordinary. Taking place years after the zombie apocalypse, it revolves around downtown Pittsburgh, in which a zombie-free haven exists for surviving humans. Adding to the drama, Romero sets up a conflict between rich and poor humans which inevitably leads to barriers being broached and an inevitable bloodbath. John Leguizamo is remarkable as a character who comes to appreciate the limits of his social class. Otherwise, it’s the kind of second-generation zombie story we’ve seen elsewhere (most notably 28 Weeks Later): the living can’t live with each other effectively enough to fight the dead, the centre does not hold, and the dead win. Land of the Dead is relatively effective in that it has themes, some wit, some imagination and intentions that go beyond “just another zombie movie”. But there are limits to its effectiveness, especially in a sub-genre that has seemingly been strip-mined in the past decade and a half.

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