It's now a perfect circle for one of the masters of horror, George A. Romero. "Land of the Dead" is the fourth entry in a cult film series that started with 1968's seminal "Night of the Living Dead" and stopped twenty years ago with his criminally underrated "Day of the Dead." Irony lives in the success of recent zombie films (the successful remake of "Dawn of the Dead" and Boyle's "28 Days Later") that attribute more than a passing homage to the genre Romero single-handedly built in the 60s. "Land of the Dead" budgeted at a meager US$ 16 million was green-lit because the powers that be in the studio™ decided it was a safe bet to let Romero have another go at it. Here's a smart horror film with a sharp socio-political commentary dripped in Romero's signature sardonic humour. Interestingly, this fourth installment is also his most humanistic. His zombies kill, eat and pillage. They survive to exist; to find their own place in the world. His humans do the same. It's just that the math is more complex with them. And that's the story Romero wants to tell.
The film starts with a title card that tells us this is an unknown future. The dead walk a wasteland of debris and social decay. You are expected to understand that a new society has emerged from the carnage of the past few years. A handful of protectors (mercenaries) occasionally take out the zombies to maintain the balance of nature. Much has changed since the zombies took over but the basic class struggle exists. A tall skyscraper stands in the middle of the turmoil and shelters the elite who go about their daily lives (blissfully shopping; indulging in their cheese-and-wine nights; cavorting in their silk beds till the wee hours of morning) while regular folks live in dirty shelters and die at the hand of disease. Or hunger. Or zombies. It's a bleak future that will become more harrowing when the mercenaries turn against their affluent benefactors. Then there is also the mild issue of zombies learning, getting smarter and more organised. They will eventually attack this safe haven of greed, corruption and vice. The innocents caught in the middle will perish. More precisely: eaten alive in grotesque ways better left outside this review. Sure, it's gory but for those of you looking for contemporary subtext, it doesn't get any more metaphorical than this.
I won't talk much about our heroes because it is difficult to find a character that can be indentified with (unless you're into killing zombies). In his grand tradition, Romero's human characters are merely caricatures written into the story to embellish the true nature of the film. I would though like to single out Dennis Hopper as the chief executive of the rich representatives of human micro-society. It is a subtle performance and represents a great contrast to the melodrama and chaos happening around him.
"Land of the Dead" is blessed with excellent production values. There is iconic imagery that will endear any fan of horror (that shot from the poster of hundreds of zombies rising out of river is but one of many). I'm heaping a lot of praise on the film and much of it is deserved. However, I do not discount the fact that it is not entirely blemish-free (there are far too many false scares: the music is cranked up really loud before a quick edit of someone sneaking up on someone's back). Minute caveat considering what writer-director Romero has achieved. On that merit alone, supporting "Land of the Dead" with your time and honouring it with your attention is perhaps one small way of paying tribute to a living legend. - Adnan Khan