Land of the Dead-2005
Director-George A. Romero
Starring-Simon Baker, John Leguizamo
Scott’s Review #1,077
Reviewed November 6, 2020
Land of the Dead (2005) is a post-apocalyptic horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, the fourth of Romero’s six Living Dead movies, preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). The result is a mediocre effort, plagued by poor acting and too much silliness. The goofy nature of the film negates any sense of foreboding or dread despite there being plenty of zombies.
The result is camp over horror instead of a blended mix of both which would have worked better. To compare Land of the Dead to Night or Dawn is a tough ask since the formers are so much better and have political points to make. There is nothing like that in Land of the Dead besides a weak side story about class distinction that goes nowhere, and some jokes about the Bush regime. That’s a shame because it would have made the film more relevant.
What we are served is a healthy dose of shoot ’em up or slice ’em up scenes where zombie heads or some other appendage are blown or sliced off. This is fun for a while, but I wanted something more. Wisely, and staying true to the other films, the events are set around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which helps with continuity. The geographical reference to the famous “three rivers” immediately identifying the city is used.
As events kick off we learn that the zombie population has outnumbered the human population forcing the humans to barricade themselves within a structured community for safety. There exist the haves who live in a luxury high-rise and the have-nots who survive in squalor. Dennis Hopper plays the rigid government figure, Paul Kaufman, and our good guy is the handsome Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) who provides aid to those in need.
Conflict erupts when it’s discovered that the zombies exhibit superior intelligence. They storm the gates of the city in droves and wreak havoc on the people of the community. Other characters along for the ride are Cholo (John Leguizamo), Slack (Asia Argento- yes, daughter of famous horror director Dario Argento), and Charlie (Robert Joy). The rest of the film is a battle between good and evil (the zombies and greedy Paul) and not much else. Why do the zombies exhibit advanced intelligence? Are they cloning or are more humans becoming zombies? These questions are not answered.
Creatively, Land of the Dead looks good. It is stylistic, dark, and mysterious. Scenes where zombies parade around in misty and gloomy conditions are cool. The slicker and more commercial style gives a modern and fresh look and feel. Reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the 2002 offering by Danny Boyle, that’s not a bad thing though it’s tepid for Romero. 28 Days Later rejuvenated the zombie genre so patterning after it doesn’t hurt Land of the Dead.
Another positive is the homoerotic nature of the relationship between Cholo and Mike (Shawn Roberts), a rookie. Both masculine and aggressive, there exists a hint of tenderness and a closeness that feels romantic. When Mike is bitten and commits suicide to avoid turning, Cholo is devastated, implying that they might have shared a close background. Unfortunately, this is never explored after Mike’s death.
On that note, the characters are not particularly interesting nor crafted well. Paul is merely bad, while Riley is heroic. Cholo is angry and rebellious, while Slack is a prostitute. Charlie is the sidekick. Everyone has their place, but little of substance is given about their past lives, their hopes for the future, or anything more than escaping the zombies. I get that’s the goal, but more personal stuff would have been better.
The rest is what you would expect from a zombie film and nothing more, which feels lazy of Romero especially since he wrote the screenplay. He tends to deliver better product with some meaning or interpretation. In Dawn of the Dead, for example, the zombies sought the mall because it was familiar to them. One could argue that a city and its lights offer more of the same, but this feels weak and has already been explored. I guess I was expecting more of something that would grab me into the world of the film and nothing ever did.
A forgettable affair, Land of the Dead (2005) does not require repeated viewings as its predecessors do. This film was one and done for me. Some trimmings and entertainment exist, but I yearned for more substance than a standard, Saturday late-night zombie-fest. There are enough of those already.