DECEMBER 17, 2008
What the fuck is it about British zombie movies that makes people exalt them to high heaven, ignoring all of their derivative qualities? When 28 Days Later came out, folks sang its praises, claiming how much better it was than Dawn or Day of the Dead, while completely ignoring the fact that without those movies, 28 Days Later would be pretty damn short due to the fact that nearly half the film consists of scenes with only minor differences from their superior counterparts in Romero’s films. Now we have The Zombie Diaries, which most reviewers claim is far superior to the similar Diary of the Dead, despite the fact that this film shares almost all of the same problems Romero’s had, and is far less interesting to boot.
For example, many complained about the characters in Diary filming things that they shouldn’t, and the camerawork being too “clean” (so we could see the top notch gore effects). Well Zombie Diaries does it one better: at one point a guy fires a shot, and then there’s a goddamn CUT to the zombie getting its head blown apart! With one camera! Also, these characters film their friends being eaten and many benign conversations and events, not to mention take the time to perfectly frame just as many headshots as Romero’s characters did (and unlike that film, none of the kills here are particularly memorable). But it’s British, not American, so it’s OK I guess?
And Diary, for all its faults, at least stuck to a single concept (film students are making a horror movie, end up being in one) and a core group of characters, most of whom never filmed anything. Here, we follow three separate groups, and while the documentary team has an excuse, none is ever given for why the other two are constantly filming their adventures (and certainly not why these regular folks are equipped with good cameras and an endless supply of tapes and batteries). As a result, it’s often very confusing as to who exactly is filming, especially near the end of the film when the groups begin intersecting. At first I thought the film would present a tapestry of different characters, a la Max Brooks’ incredible book "World War Z", which would have been fine, but the constant switching back and forth of perspective is needlessly confusing and ultimately annoying. Perhaps if the groups weren’t intercut with one another, and instead presented whole in 25-30 min segments, it would work better.
But even then, the movie would still suffer from the same shit that many zombie movies do: evil fucking humans. Yeah, because the end of the world, losing all your loved ones, and the undead walking around is simply not enough for a single movie, you gotta have a couple of humans show that “we” are the REAL monsters. It’s the same moronic decision that ultimately sunk 28 Days Later and many other zombie films (even the original Dawn loses a lot of steam once the biker gang shows up). I don’t understand why this is such a prevalent concept in zombie films. I don’t see this happening in other genres; it’s not like you’re watching The Howling and then near the end a bunch of fucking goblins show up too. Christ, zombies don’t even figure into the final 10 minutes of a movie called ZOMBIE DIARIES, because the evil humans have once again become the main antagonists.
That all said, it’s not without merit. The first half hour or so (before the “Survivor” group is introduced) is pretty solid, and the acting is decent for the most part. There’s a guy in the “Scavenger” group that’s pretty bad, but otherwise they are all believable, and more importantly not recognizable. The biggest mistake any of these mockumentary movies can make is to cast well-known actors (part of why I didn’t even bother with Quarantine), so at least they got that right. And to be fair, it did come BEFORE Diary of the Dead and a lot of the other recent “found footage” type movies, so kudos to coming up with an original-ish way to PRESENT their zombie movie; it’s just a shame that they couldn’t come up with original ideas to put into it as well.
The DVD comes with two commentaries, one by the director/writer/producer/editor team (no one else to blame for the movie’s faults!) and one by the cast. I listened to the director one; it’s plenty informative, though they start off by claiming they won’t be pretentious and then 10 minutes later they are knocking Blair Witch’s jump cuts, noting that they are “absurd”, apparently forgetting that the film is presented as edited footage and thus the jump cuts make total sense. They also knock on 28 Days for some of its faults (I’m no big fan of that film either, so I don’t care, but it’s still worth noting I think), rather than bother to note their own. There are also quite a few deleted scenes, confusingly presented in three separate menus (one per survivor group). “Play All” only refers to the scenes for that group, so make sure you click around if you want to see all of the footage that was wisely removed from the film. Many reviews point out an hour-long making of documentary being included as well, but damned if I could find it on the copy I rented.
The DVD box also features what I assume is the cover for a much more exciting zombie movie, since it doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with this one.
On the back of the DVD, a site (magazine?) called Dark Side is credited with saying that it’s “The Best Zombie Film Ever!” This bummed me out; I feel bad for anyone who lives in a universe that doesn’t include Night of the Living Dead (1968 or 1990), Dawn of the Dead (78 or 04), Day of the Dead (85), Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, 28 Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead, The Beyond, Zombie, The Gates of Hell, Return of the Living Dead, Zombies Anonymous, Dead & Buried, [Rec], Mulberry St, Demons, Demons 2, Boy Eats Girl, Night of the Creeps, Messiah Of Evil, Flight Of The Living Dead, Black Sheep, Deathdream, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Planet Terror, Brain Dead, Prince Of Darkness, or Cemetery Man. To name a few.
What say you?