[Originally posted July '05]
Horror films have always gotten away with A LOT: whether its ultra-gratuitous sex, stomach-churning violence, or "relevant" socio-political commentary. While horror-maestro George A. Romeros Land of the Dead, his long awaited return to zombie country he practically created, unfortunately doesnt feature any sex, it sure supplies the other two elements in abundance. Violence has been and will always be quite relative, but now apparently everyone has a thing or two to say about our political situation -- and it aint subtle. It could be said that Mr. Romero and his zombies have has woken up a year late, but no matter what, they arent happy with Bush II (ably played by Dennis Hopper in the film), and they wanna take the matter in their own hands and mouths since the "living" havent done much about it.
In the film's post-apocalyptic landscape, Pittsburgh is an important place for the rich because its guarded by water on three sides, so they all live together in a towering skyscraper. The rest, however, hustle and grind on the streets, barely surviving. A few of them have been recruited for supplies and protection -- led by a good-natured soldier (Simon Baker) and a boisterous mercenary (John Leguizamo). When one of them is shunned by the authority at the tower, the other is sent, along with a small army that includes a former hooker (the always bewitching Asia Argento, the reason I was disappointed by no sex), to eliminate him and his plans. Meanwhile, the zombies have also started their march toward the city, and now they're more determined than ever: they can partially communicate and use various weapons, thanks to us, of course.
People looking for genuine horror might want to avoid Land of the Dead because other than a few "boo" moments, there isnt much else to write home about; gore is aplenty, though. Romero certainly knows the basic rules for these sorts of films, and so he keeps the pace and the energy level quite high throughout. However, that doesnt support any character development, even though Leguizamos motor-mouth and Argentos wardrobe do their best to deter our attention. Still, there are some clever sequences (zombies are easily distracted by fireworks -- of our victory in Iraq perhaps?), and Romero facetiously keeps switching the target of our sympathies.
Land of the Dead's cinematic values are the highest among all the other Romero zombie flicks -- Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) -- which is not surprising considering the budget. While Danny Boyles 28 Days Later (2003) remains my favorite, with Land, as NY Times' chief film-critic Manohla Dargis said, "You wont go home hungry."
*Available in the U.S. on DVD (Universal).