Land of the Dead (2005) — Forgettable zombie shuffling

“Zombies, man. They creep me out.”

Kyle’s rating: Like the man said, “I think this is going to be another one of those funky ones”

Kyle’s review: Unsurprisingly, the critical consensus over this movie seems to follow a simple pattern. If you dig George Romero’s original holy trilogy of zombie films, you’ll probably dig this one. Those who really treasure Romero’s horror work and immediately think of the director when they hear the words “social commentary” or “rampant consumerism” will be especially willing to defend Land of the Dead until any conversational antagonist has been reduced to zombie status. See what I did there? I brought up zombies in a real world situation. Pretty cool, eh?

Sadly, my little writing sleight-of-hand right there is a lot more involving and interesting than this film. I would have felt bad, but I saw it with my friend Chance, and right around the time I was realized Land was pretty lame (around six minutes into it) he leaned over and said, “This is lame. Let’s leave and get our money back.” I whispered we should stay, figuring I’d get a Mutant review out of it, and Chance busied himself with a trip for water and nachos. In retrospect, we should have left and/or snuck into Batman Begins, even if I had seen it three times by then. Batman would have been awesome!

Actually, here’s a nifty barometer for Land of the Dead: if you think it is (1) clever; and (2) interesting in a meta-argumentative manner for Romero to heavily play the money-as-power card and run into the ground the fact that powerful people with money are bad and poor people with dreams are good, then it might be “fun” and “rewarding” for you to sit through this movie. If you’re psyched for it, don’t worry about those being the only issues that get touched upon. Terrorism, racism, and sexism get touched upon as well. How there’s any time for zombie action among all this, I’ll never know.

I really hate having to come down on a film that appears to be genuinely interested in melding horror with social issues in an intelligent way, but I took offense, and still do, at the film contorting itself in an annoying way to attempt to get the best of both worlds. As is usually the case, it failed at achieving either in a believable or interesting way.

Money is certainly the root of all this trouble. Not in execution, though. The film looks great, the effects are pretty good, and the zombies are just what I wanted. But story-wise, the inclusion of money is taken to absurd extremes and had me staring in disbelief at a film that tried to make me buy into characters being motivated by piles and piles of cash, despite the fact that the world has apparently been reduced to occasional outposts, and logically the only real use for paper money at that point would be as kindling and rough toilet paper. Maybe I missed the dialogue that talked about another place in the world of this film that still took Mastercard and Traveler’s Checks, but otherwise I couldn’t help but thinking that money wouldn’t buy much more than cheap laughs and “Are you kidding? I said pay in bullets” glares from bartenders and stuff.

Meanwhile, here’s another problem I had with Cholo needing money from Hopper: Cholo is part of a roving gang that travels around the zombie-infested countryside looking for supplies and whatnot to bring back to Fiddler’s Green for everybody. If money still has value at this point like it did pre-zombies (and the way Cholo demands $5 million, it certainly seems to), why not rob every cash register and ATM that can be found? The way bullets and missiles get tossed around, it really shouldn’t be too much trouble for Cholo and a group of lackeys to clear out enough zombies to be able to safely crack a bank vault somewhere and clear out a nice retirement fund. Instead, it seems like Hopper controls all the money in the world, which begs the question of where Cholo plans to bring his ill-gotten funds and what he thinks he can do with it. We’re supposed to hate Hopper because he’s the racist guy with all the money, view Cholo distastefully because he’s all about money and he’s willing to commit terrorist acts to get what he feels he deserves, and think of Simon Baker as the hero because he cares about the lives of all innocent living people and he just wants to get away from it all and make it to Canada where there are either less zombies or ones easier to kill. Personally, I thought of Baker as the hero just because he has the common sense to be paid in guns, ammo, and a car.

There are other strange quirks that were vastly more fun to consider than paying full attention to the film. All the people living in luxury in Fiddler’s Green, wearing suits and expensive dresses and buying expensive items and whatnot: how are they supporting themselves? Are they just living off of the money they accumulated in the pre-zombie world? What sort of white collar jobs could there be in a post-zombies world, even if we’re talking about the sheltered bubble of Fiddler’s Green? When zombies attack, a lot of the “businessmen” run off holding a loved one’s hand in one fist and a briefcase in the other. What’s so important that it’s worth taking with you when almost certain death is upon you? Why didn’t anyone ever consider the benefit of an escape plan being devised, even a rudimentary one? If zombies are pretty much earthbound and confined to walking/shambling attacks, why would Hopper’s (presumably) secret method of escape involve going to an underground parking garage, necessitating a long drive to street level and then another drive to wherever his boat was docked?

There are a lot more questions than satisfactory answers in Land of the Dead. I can’t help but think that if the hugely clunky plot device of money had been completely removed from the equation, the film would have been much more real and devastating. Instead, we get the usual stuff: rich people are racist and selfish, poor/working people are downtrodden yet strong, zombies attack all that lives. I just don’t think short bursts of zombie action, even courtesy of horror maestro Romero, is worth the hassle of sitting through nonsensical plot devices, even if under the guise of “social commentary.” The gore, including a zombie’s graphic removal of a woman’s belly button piercing, may be offensive to your personal sense of safety, but the story is offensive to your intelligence. Stick with either Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later (yes, I know they’re not zombies) for modern zombie horror needs.

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