Diary Of The Dead (2007)

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?


  1. I couldn't be more excited for this one.

    I have to disagree a little though, do you really think the social commentary in Dawn was subtle? Admittedly, there's more to it than just zombies look like shoppers, but Romero has always been delightfully blunt.

    Still, I'll probably see what you're talking about when I finally see Diary.

  2. I think it's subtle compared to this film, certainly. Essentially, if the Romero of today was making Dawn, Peter would say to Flyboy "We are obsessed with commercialism and consumerism, as evidenced by our thinking that we 'own' this place. We are no better than the mindless zombies walking around in it!"

  3. I'm really excited to see this one too. I saw him at Dragon Con two years ago and he talked a little about this project, but more about using practical effects vs. CGI.

  4. Gotcha. You can see some of that in Land, too. Sometimes I get the feeling that Romero's a little more concerned that viewers won't "get it" than he used to be. Leguizamo's line about seeing how the other half live was still funny though.

  5. So when does this hit theaters? Is it hitting theaters? I haven't been keeping up with the film, which I should. Romero is one of my favorite directors.

  6. No date yet, but it WILL be in theaters...

  7. I think that a lot of the heavy-handedness could be remedied if they cut all or most of the voiceover. It is really pointless and FAR too on the nose. It's kind of funny because I saw it before it had distribution (saw it at TIFF), but the voiceover feels like something that a studio forced onto the filmmaker because they didn't think people would 'get' the commentary.

    And yes, compared to this film, even BC's made up quote would be subtle...

  8. Just watched this after renting the DVD and was so disappointed. I knew Romero had become a techno-fetishist after an interview I saw with him, but this was ridiculous. The documentary aspect was okay, but it felt like half the dialogue was just there to justify why they were filming what they were filming. "The surveillance monitor was wireless and made it so easy to hack it" or whatever. Who cares! Unless this was more commentary about how we are always being filmed. This isn't England for chrissakes. I like the teacher character best, but he was also saddled with garbage to say and justify. What war was he in, the Falklands? And how are arrows better than bullets, they are both still distance weapons? And why does a girl who kisses a cross go and try to kill herself and I can go on and on, it is just a bad movie, and does not deserve to be in the Romero/Dead pantheon.

  9. The heavy handedness was what did it for me. The worst part was that the whole philosophical aspect of the film was so shallow and immature. Technology = bad. Humans = mindless technology users, thus, bad also. Unless it's a film maker using it to make a movie about how much it sucks. It reminds me of the movie Untraceable. If you want to whack me over the head with a view point it could at least be an intelligent one.

  10. Didn't did movie have a sequel? I seem to remember the guys that attacked their bus to have their own "adventure"... Time to google!

  11. Honestly, the thing that bothered me most about this movie wasn't the social commentary aspect or the fact that the footage looks "too good" to be genuine so much as the self-righteousness of the lead girl. She really got on my nerves. I did like the British guy though. Some of the dialogue was a bit clunky, too.


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