OCTOBER 12, 2007
It's almost shocking that today's movie was a brand new Romero movie. It's only been a little over two years since Land Of The Dead made a cameo appearance in multiplexes, and here we are with Diary Of The Dead, which Romero claims takes place at the same time as Night Of The Living Dead. Which I can't really buy, since the films take place in the respective time periods of their production year, and this film is quite obviously set in a modern world. Then again, the films have always reflected the era they were made, not really following a realistic pattern of a world left in ruins (so almost everyone is dead, but they still took the time to invent CDs and VCRs? Cool.), so I guess it doesn't matter.
The film is stylistically different than the others as well, in two major ways. Instead of a centralized location and a group of characters who are at odds with one another as well as the zombies, this one features a group of film students traveling around the mid east coast looking for safety. The requisite "Evil Human" characters are in the film for maybe 30 seconds, and the core group don't really have any major conflicts among them (even a hint at a love triangle is just that). Also, this film is presented entirely through the alleged video footage of the main character, Jason (the group was out in the middle of the woods making a mummy movie (?) when the zombie outbreak begins), with occasional stuff shot by the other characters and a few videos on Youtube and Myspace.
And that is part of a problem (not a crippling one, at least not for me) in the film. Supposedly this is all real time, "documentary" footage filmed during zombie attacks, running, all matters of chaos. But it doesn't really FEEL that way. With something like Blair Witch Project or even Alone With Her, there's never a point where you forget you are watching a document of real events. Here, everything is shot too well, as it were. The main character's best friends are being attacked by zombies, and not only does he not help (which I can buy as a result of shock or just plain weakness), he keeps everything in frame and in focus. There were a few times that I actually forgot I was watching something from a character's point of view, only reminded when one character filmed the other one filming. With hand-held camera footage in action/drama films becoming more and more the norm, it's not enough to just not use a steadicam to really sell this effect.
Another, bigger problem for me was the complete heavy-handedness of the film's social commentary. The reason why Dawn of the Dead is such a great and enduring film is that you can watch it just as a zombie movie and totally ignore the satire/commentary, because it was subtly implemented. Not the case here. It's impossible to watch this one as a "regular zombie movie", because Romero's ideas are so blatant. There are a few comparisons of guns and cameras (they both SHOOT, see?) in the film that make the shit Paul Haggis "says" in his films look subtle. Also, the narration constantly spells out what is pretty obvious. It's almost like Romero didn't trust the audience to "get" the film on their own (perhaps a response to the underwhelming box office of Land?) and felt the need to make it as obvious as possible.
However, these flaws are evened out, and then some, by what DOES work in the film. This is possibly the funniest film in the series. During the mummy movie shoot (why would a mummy be in the woods?), a character begins explaining why the 'mummy' can't run. "Hes undead, his ankles will shatter!", a line that got most of the crowd cheering. The movie even pokes fun at the insertion of social commentary in a horror film. Also, there's a deaf Amish character who, even in his brief role, ranks as one of Romero's best ever creations.
There's also a surprisingly high number of impressive and unique gags/zombie deaths in the film. You'd think by now that everything would have been thought of, but Romero pulls out a few crowd-pleasing "whoa!"s that will probably be spoiled in the trailer. I'll spoil one though - a zombie gets a bottle of acid smashed on his head. As he stumbles toward his victim, his brain slowly burns/decays away, and he dies. I've never seen that! So awesome.
Speaking of the trailer, I am curious how this one will be marketed. There are no stars (I spent the whole movie thinking that the male co-lead was the guy from Wolf Creek and Snakes on a Plane, but it was actually someone not even THAT 'famous'), nor is there a particularly high amount of action (at least compared to other recent zombie movies) or anything as "cinematic" as say, the zombies rising from the river in Land. Personally, I loved how low key it was (which is why I am going easy on its other flaws); i think the "Let's make it bigger than the last one!" mentality of sequels is a horrible trend (for a 'perfect' example, check out Die Hard Faux, a film so intent on being big that it forgot to be a goddamn Die Hard movie), and it's good to see Romero was more interested in doing something different rather than more 'exciting'. Had the script been given another pass or two in attempts to make the film's message less blatant, it could have easily been one of the better in the series. As it stands, it's a (possible) fitting finale to one of the most consistently interesting franchises in horror movie history, and kudos to George Romero (no spring chicken these days) for pulling it off as well as he did.
What say you?