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Diary of the Dead An Interesting Horror Experiment


Diary of the Dead (Third Rail Releasing, 2008)
Written and directed by George A. Romero

I’ll give George Romero this, he’s a smart guy with a wonderful imagination that most of the big studio directors could only hope to attain in their lifetime. As the years pass on, and the more I look back on or watch his Dead series, the more I grow to appreciate it. The first two entries, Night and Dawn are colossal achievements, epics if you will. When stripped down to their essence, the films are simply zombie pictures, but they have proven to last out all of the other imitators and successors forty years later (Night was released in 1968) because they had a heart to them that very few filmmakers ever manage to get in their films be it a zombie picture or not.

Day and Land, the third and fourth entries in the series, are not really all that good in the grand scheme, but even those two films have sequences in them that stand out quite exceptionally, and both films get much better upon multiple viewings. That could be said for a lot of Romero’s films: Martin, Knightriders, Monkey Shines, and hell, even Creepshow. What could simply be considered simple genre films have a lot of layers to them that you don’t often find in these types of pictures.

Sometimes, however, Romero overshoots his intentions and gets lost in his own world. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call the man egotistical, but I guess you could say he gets a little preachy or pompous at times. If anyone can make out what his 2000 meditation on self-loathing, Bruiser, is all about I’ll give you a cookie. However, maybe that’s all it is, and I’m trying to look too deeply into it, but either way, it sucked.

His newest semi-entry into the Dead series (this is really almost more of an offshoot than a direct continuation) kind of falls in this latter category. Although, unlike Bruiser, I actually enjoyed quite a bit of it, but there was also quite a lot that didn’t work for me. To be honest, this, like many of Romero’s films might be one I will learn to appreciate or dislike more over time, but either way it’s an interesting film, and in the end that’s not so bad.

In the Dead series, Romero has created them as topical horror films. In the different entries you can find commentary on everything from race relations to consumerism to military injunctions to annoying rich people. All of this combined with Zombies crunching on brains can be very effective (Night and Dawn) or very mediocre (Day and Land).

Diary, while not a sequel, still chooses to follow this path. Jason Creed (Joshua Close) is shooting a student horror film about a mummy when he and his crew get wind of a news report that the dead are coming to life and killing other people. Creed has always considered himself to be a documentary filmmaker, so while he and his friends try to make their way to their respective homes, he decides to capture everything they witness on film so that people later on can hopefully watch and learn something.

Diary follows in the footsteps of Cloverfield and a few other films to come out this year as a “Found Footage” piece. Although, in this case what we are watching is the actual footage edited together after the fact by Jason’s girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan). She is also the film’s narrator and she makes a comment early on that she has even added music in parts to help create the mood; for that little bit of dialogue alone, you can see what I mean by Romero being smarter than your average filmmaker. At least for the most part we can buy why all this is being filmed and why it is presented to us the way it is.

All of the events that happen over the next hour and a half can be divided into a couple of different camps, but most of it is pretty interesting. Debra has also inserted a lot of YouTube footage that was captured by people all over the world. There is a lot of talk about the media’s spin on the whole situation, and in this case the average citizen (that knows how to upload video) can let people know what is really going on.

The media gets bashed quite a bit in the film along with the military. At one point, Jason and his friends meet up with some people from the National Guard. At first they are relieved, but soon after are disconcerted to learn that they are just being robbed of all their essential belongings. They do have the courtesy to leave them their weapons, so maybe they aren’t getting ripped into too bad.

There is also a very strange middle section of the film where the group runs into some ex-military members and their friends who have looted a small town and are holed up in a giant warehouse. At one point one of their members dies from a bad heart and comes back a zombie (No matter how you die in this film you become a zombie), and they spend about fifteen minutes looking for him. There is nothing essentially wrong with the sequence except it doesn’t really seem to serve much of a purpose, and stalls the film for a little bit.

A couple of other sequences are much more effective. I enjoyed them running into the Amish guy with the farm while they fix up their Winnebago; his version of self-sacrifice is one of those classic type moments that Night and Dawn are filled to the gills with. They also manage to get to a friend’s parents house which is a fortress of a mansion with a Panic Room they can hole themselves up in for awhile. There is a great scene in this part with a group of zombies stuck at the bottom of a pool.

The group of people that we get to follow around are not uninteresting exactly, but there is not much depth given to them, nor are they very good actors. I understand that Romero was shooting this on his own dime, but I’m sure there are a lot of people that would shoot a film with the guy that can do better than this. The script could have also given us a little more insight into Creed’s character; made us understand a little more why he has to film everything.

I can understand it to a point, but when you have him film instead of helping his friends while they are being chased by killer zombies, you start to hate the guy a lot more than you can relate to him. Creed’s selfishness does lead to a great moment in the film when he is shooting his friend Ridley (Phillip Riccio), now dead and still in his mummy outfit from the movie they were making. Ridley is chasing Tracy (Amy Ciupak Lalonde), and it ends up being an exact replica of the scene we watched them film at the beginning of the movie, but this time it’s for real. The film reaches an eerie level of post modernism and self-awareness in this scene that I wished Romero had tried a little more for in the rest of the film.

Another problem I have with the film is Romero’s incessant need to ram everything down our throats. The media and military issues are mixed in with terrorism angles, the absence of technology, and privacy issues. There is so much going on here, at times you get a headache trying to comprehend it all.

At times, the film will cut away to stock footage of various things that have been uploaded to the internet. There is some good stuff here. One bizarre scene involves some cops getting blindsided by some zombies that a husband and wife have kept locked up because they were family. One of the officers gets bitten and before he turns he shoots the husband and wife because he’s pissed at them. He even says he refuses to shoot them in the head because he wants them to turn. Still, no matter how effective that scene was, it like all of the rest of these moments feel a little out of place and take us out of the film for a second.

Overall, I found the film interesting enough to recommend it especially for fans of Romero’s. It’s the best film he’s made in fifteen years; of course there’s only three other films besides this one that he’s made in that time span. Still, it was nice to see him go back to his more independent roots and try a new variation on an old theme. Even if it’s not a complete success, it’s not a noble failure by any means either. It’s a pretty good film that could have been a lot more, but I think over time I could like it more. Any film that keeps me interested enough to make me want to watch it again is better than 80% of the stuff I see, so check it out; see what you think.


Sam Loomis

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