Diary of the Dead (2008)
February 19, 2008 · Published By Movie Reviewers
Rated: R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language.
Runtime: 95 mins.
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: George A. Romero
Cast: Michelle Morgan; Joshua Close; Shawn Roberts
Tagline: Shoot the Dead.
Memorable Quote: “Hye, I’m just trying to make a movie here”
Release Date: February 15, 2008
Distributor: Weinstein Company
Official Site: www.myspace.com/diaryofthedead
View the Trailer: apple.com/trailers/weinstein/diaryofthedead/trailer1
By Frank Wilkins
Whether you’re a fan of horror or not, watching a George Romero zombie flick is a satisfying treat. The original master of zombie horror always brings plenty of satire, humor and biting social commentary to the cinematic table for all to enjoy. And this one’s no different. In the past he’s tackled such themes as the scourge of excessive consumerism, class division, military fascism, and was even said to have taken a shot at the Viet Nam and Iraq wars from time to time. Wry commentaries aside, and even for those who don’t care for heavy messages in their zombie flicks, there’s enough shooting, killing, maiming, and flesh-eating going on to satisfy even the most seasoned gore hounds out there.
His latest chapter, the sub low-budget Diary of the Dead, begins with a gaggle of filmmaking students ironically shooting a low-budget mummy movie of their own in the woods of Pennsylvania, when their project is interrupted by the news of dead people coming to life. As the crew flees to safety and unexpectedly encounters the walking dead, they do what all dedicated filmmakers would do – they keep the camera rolling. Student director Jason (Josh Close) obsessively documents the carnage, refusing to put the camera down lest he miss an opportunity to get some great footage for Youtube. It’s this apathy and detachment brought about by a society obsessed with filming and watching tragic events that’s at the ground level of what Romero is trying to say. He even takes a couple of not-so-subtle jabs at contemporary media by suggesting they often distort the truth.
Pulling a queue from The Blair Witch Project, Romero cleverly uses the video found on Jason’s camera as the main means of telling the story. Some will certainly complain about the jittery, hand-held camera-work that has been utilized in many recent films (Diary was made before Cloverfield), but for this one, the technique makes sense as it ties into the theme at hand. CNN-style news reports, surveillance video and some occasional camera-phone shots fill in the holes, while Jason’s friend Debra (Michelle Morgan), provides voice-over for the film and mentions that she assembled the movie from found footage, and added sound effects and music cues to make the scares more effective. While the film is not necessarily scary, it is uniquely effective as both a bloodletting zombie spectacle and a statement piece.
With no major studios willing to leverage any up-front funding for his films, Romero is forced to make due with whatever he can, and that includes acting newcomers (and a couple of C-listers), bare-bones set pieces and minimalist staff and crew. He doesn’t have any isolated high rises or zombie-infested shopping malls to work with this time around, but he’s ultimately able to turn the shortcomings around to his favor. The guerilla-style filmmaking approach is a genius move here and shows us that he’s just an old dog willing to use new tricks to keep his legacy alive.
Some will declare Diary of the Dead a clunky gimmick emanating from the mind of an out-of-touch alarmist. But others will enjoy the fact that it’s as much an essay piece as it is a zombie movie. The best of both worlds I say. Once the themes begin falling in place and the body count piles up, we realize we’re being treated to that wonderfully wicked thought process that has defined Romero for decades. Oh, and you thought you’d seen every means of killing a zombie? Think again!