In Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s 1968 film that founded the modern zombie genre, a group of people seek refuge in a farmhouse when corpses reanimate with a hunger for human flesh. Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection follows the same basic plot. Both films have a black character named Ben.
And there the similarities end. Where Romero’s film is suspenseful, novel, and disturbing, the new film, billed as ‘a brand-new take on the horror classic!’, is plodding, familiar, and tedious. It’s unclear what the resurrection in the title refers to. If it’s the themes and characters from the original, they would have been better left to rest in peace, given their wretched treatment at the hands of director James Plumb and company.
Set in Wales, Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection begins with a group of young toughs threatening a man. Zombies break up the encounter. Ben, who is driving by, tries unsuccessfully to intercede. Several of the teens escape, to reenter the plot later. Ben then heads for a friend’s house via country roads, but runs out of gas. (Keep your cars full of petrol, Euro-preppers!) He is greeted very rudely at the farmhouse where he stops for help.
Meet Gerald’s family, three generations of very poor decision-makers with a fourth on the way, plus one unlucky son-in-law. Their feeble attempts to keep the mayhem outside at bay meet with the expected results.
Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection shows little ambition compared to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which successfully locates its action in the context of the progressive social breakdown you’d expect to occur during a zombie plague, and captures the charged atmosphere of 1968 that had affected even the American heartland (the film was shot in and around Pittsburgh). In Night of the Living Dead, what happens in the farmhouse reflects in miniature what we see transpiring in the culture, captured in cleverly edited glimpses. Bickering and lack of leadership among the refugees lead to their downfall. Even familial bonds dissolve, among the living as well as the undead.
Following Romero’s lead, zombie films, at least the good ones, have tended toward social commentary ever since. It’s a dimension lacking in Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection, although Plumb dutifully includes some musings over the meaning of the plague. Ben listens to a radio broadcast in which a doctor compares zombification to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease; and another reporting that the Westboro Baptist Church—inexplicably relocated from Topeka, Kansas, to west Wales—has blamed the outbreak on homosexuality. The grandfather chez Gerald provides the requisite Biblical lesson, reciting the day of judgment passage from the Book of Revelation to his uninterested granddaughters. Thinkers, Gerald’s clan are not.
These brief references are isolated, and don’t form the coherent social backdrop present in Night of the Living Dead. As the church reference suggests, Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection takes place not in Wales, or anywhere in particular, but rather in an international space of cultural references and film allusions. At one point Ben attempts to call his friend on his cell. “I’m coming to get you, Barbara,” he says, quoting a line from Night of the Living Dead. To make sure we get the allusion, Ben’s phone screen briefly displays a publicity still from Romero’s film. (What does this mean in the context of the new film? Has Ben recently screened the 1968 classic and enjoyed it so much he made the movie poster his smart phone wallpaper? The uncanny similarities with his own life half a century and half a world away that the film depicts would help explain his agitated state.)
Admittedly, it must be difficult to achieve originality in the middle of the zombie film boom. Depicting the end of the world in general is very popular right now. ‘Apocalypse is trending’, as Gerald’s youngest daughter Mandy (Mel Stevens) says, checking her phone for news of what’s happening beyond the farmhouse—the only moment of wit in the entire film.
Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection is a messy agglomeration of conventions and references—cinematic viscera, if you will—mindlessly pulled from the horror film archive and chewed into a mess.
A note in the credits promises that Night of the Living Dead: Revelations is coming. I’m not holding my breath.