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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

‘Festival of the Living Dead’ Review – The Soska Sisters Channel George A. Romero in Tubi’s Sequel

From Children of the Living Dead to Zombi 2, the infamous copyright blunder that immediately placed Night of the Living Dead in the public domain means that unauthorized sequels to George A. Romero’s classic are a dime a dozen. However, despite these flicks usually being dismissed as cash-grabs attempting to ride the coattails of a better filmmaker, the fact is that every modern zombie movie is an inherent follow-up to the 1968 original in one way or another– the homemade sequels are simply more honest about it.

This is exactly why I was so interested in checking out Tubi’s low-budget love-letter to Romero, Festival of the Living Dead, as the film’s trailer revealed that the story wouldn’t be wasting time on re-introducing familiar zombie tropes and instead assumes that everyone (including the main characters) are aware of the events that went down on that fateful night back in ‘68. Plus, the film is helmed by the Twisted Twins themselves, Jen and Sylvia Soska, with that alone making the flick worth a watch in my book.

If you haven’t seen the trailer for yourself, Festival of the Living Dead follows Ashley Moore as Ash, the teenage granddaughter of Duane Jones’ character from NotLD, as she joins her jock boyfriend and his drug-addled buddies on a trip to a zombie-inspired music festival. Unfortunately, a crashed meteorite soon revives the undead infection of the original film, transforming what was meant to be a weekend of fun into a (not-so) living nightmare.

On paper, this sounds like a fun enough undead romp along the lines of Return of the Living Dead or even Gregg Bishop’s underrated Dance of the Dead, where a familiar Romero-inspired premise is relocated to a new setting with a unique cast of characters to keep things fresh. In practice, however, Festival ends up being a well-intentioned collection of clever ideas marred by a woefully inadequate budget and a clumsy narrative.

Festival of the Living Dead Tubi movie

A spooky music festival becoming overrun by flesh-eating ghouls seems like a perfectly cheesy setup to a fun B-movie, but when the titular festival feels more like a backyard camp-out with a handful of your high school buddies (with the filmmakers even resorting to laughable CGI stand-ins as a way of padding out the wide shots), it becomes clear that the project lacks the resources necessary to tell a story on this scale.

Even the presentation is affected by the low production value, with some legitimately gnarly zombie makeup being sabotaged by lifeless photography and a (mostly) generic score. In fact, many of the flick’s establishing shots often feel suspiciously like stock footage, and that’s not even mentioning how the film’s connections to NotLD end up highlighting how Festival of the Living Dead refuses to engage with Romero’s evocative takes on race, mob mentality and consumerism – which is especially egregious when you consider that the movie takes place at an event that could easily incorporate these elements into the story.

The film flirts with some interesting ideas here and there, like how the events of Romero’s original are remembered as national tragedy (with the music festival actually having been established to honor victims of the infection), but the screenplay seems uninterested in exploring these story-beats in any meaningful way. From underdeveloped plot points about the impact of social media on teenage relationships to how some of the characters can’t afford tickets to such a gentrified event, there’s a frustrating amount of unfulfilled potential here.

I actually get the feeling that the original idea for Festival of the Living Dead was a much larger and more cohesive experience that ended up being painfully downsized due to the harsh realities of indie film production, with the end product being an undead husk of what was once a legitimately entertaining story.

Festival of the Living Dead trailer

Thankfully, the cast is surprisingly charming despite some shallow dialogue, with their rapport feeling quite natural throughout most of the film. There’s even a believable dose of tragedy when members of the group get inevitably eaten by zombies, an impressive feat considering that many of these characters are bona fide assholes. And while Moore makes for a likable lead, Camren Bicondova, Christian Rose and Shiloh O’Reilly are the real standouts here, and I wish that this unconventional trio had been the focus of the story instead of Ash’s new friend group.

Of course, a larger cast means that there are plenty of gruesome kills to go around, and I applaud the film’s use of practical gore effects even if the end result isn’t exactly comparable to something made by Greg Nicotero. Curiously enough, there’s a wide variety of zombie designs and behaviors here, with the movie featuring everything from freshly turned runners to Frankenstein-like creatures that ominously shamble around in search of victims.

And while this isn’t among their best work, the Soska Sisters do a stellar job of bringing energy to the screen here despite the project’s obvious limitations. I particularly appreciate their use of classic horror imagery (like undead hands clawing against windows while characters talk to each other) as well as the signature underground style present in both the film’s costume and set designs. Ultimately, I think there’s enough quality here to prove that the Canadian duo just needs a bigger budget in order to wow audiences with their patented brand of schlocky thrills.

If you can temper your expectations and avoid comparing it to other similar films, Festival of the Living Dead can make for an enjoyable 90 minutes – especially during the bonkers final act. It’s just a shame that the film couldn’t quite live up to it own lofty expectations; though I’d argue that not every zombie film needs to escape the shadow of Romero’s undead legacy.

Festival of the Living Dead is now streaming on Tubi.

2 skulls out of 5

The post ‘Festival of the Living Dead’ Review – The Soska Sisters Channel George A. Romero in Tubi’s Sequel appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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