A group of amateur filmmakers shooting a 'stupid f*cking mummy movie' decide to pack up and head home after hearing reports of the dead coming back to life and swarming the country. The head of the production, Jason Creed (Joshua Close), feels otherwise and wants to keep documenting the unfolding madness, hoping that whoever's left can use their film for survival. Throw in some satire, CG blood and bits of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and you have something that's bound to have some people scratching their heads.
As a fan of Romero's original trilogy (yes, I'm one of George's 'trolls' that liked DAY OF THE DEAD) and his last effort in LAND OF THE DEAD, I was stoked to hear that George Romero was at it again with his zombies, this time doing a reboot of sorts and starting a whole new trilogy. With that said, DIARY reminded me a lot of DAY, but not in the way you'd expect.
As most folks will no doubt have noticed, Romero has taken the idea of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT's first-person handheld camera style of shooting and made it his own (or rather, Jason's). The idea of handheld camera work isn't everyone's prime cut (it's certainly disorienting at times), but it works, putting the audience in Jason's shoes. Knowing that danger lurks beyond the confines of the framed chaos of the camera really is a freaky experience, and it's all right here.
DIARY isn't as character-driven as the other Romero zombie films, as instead we get snippets of these characters from the various snippets of film. The main protagonist, Jason, is portrayed as someone driven to capture the truth (not unlike Heather from BLAIR WITCH), but he's not entirely sympathetic. Jason's girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) isn't much better, though you do feel for their relationship, seeing as Jason is an asshat with the camera (again, not unlike Josh and Michael with Heather's insistence to film in BLAIR WITCH). Other characters aren't much developed, either, but since everyone does a sufficient job of keeping that bleak outlook, it's an okay thing, given the camera work takes centre stage.
This of course brings me to the satire that Romero has injected into every DEAD film. In this case, new media takes the brunt of the jabs in DIARY. The ideas of government lying to us and the media distorting the facts comes through in what some fans and critics have deemed heavy-handed, and rightfully so. The ideas that we, the people, have become the media, and how things seemingly don't exist without video proof or how you're 'immune' to the effects of what you're filming, are painfully obvious. It's no wonder that DIARY has been polarizing folks who see it, sort of like how DAY has its lovers and haters, but for different reasons, obviously.
That's not to say that Romero has dropped the ball with DIARY, as you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who handles the zombie genre as well as George. This film is scary, and the gore, while not as plentiful as you'd want or expect, is here in all it's gunshot and gut-eating glory. There's just something lacking about this film. Whether the well has run dry for Romero's zombies (probably not, but a possibility), or it's a case of being a misstep, DIARY isn't the return to greatness that some fans would expect, but it's still Romero. Given repeated viewings and a little time, it'll warm up to you.
Video: Shot in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer that looks about as good as it should, while at the same time keeping in mind that it's supposed to look like something shot on the fly with a camcorder. Thankfully, we don't get that cheap feeling with some DV productions. This is a dark film, with many of these scenes utilizing green and blue shades for that cold feeling. Details tend to get overwhelmed by black during these scenes, but that's an intentional move. Other than that, the transfer does the job.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is great. Helping that first-person experience along are some sweet directional effects like gunshots, shuffling feet and more. Dialogue is clean and clear, with no distortion.
First up is commentary with writer/director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty. As is often the case with Romero commentary tracks, this is a pretty detailed discussion. Covering everything from casting the picture to shooting difficult shots, the discussion includes a lot of emphasis on the fact that Romero didn't have a studio on his back telling him what he could/couldn't do, which is nice to hear. Overall, it's another track that gives insight into Romero's lovably twisted mind, which isn't a bad thing at all.
The big extra on this disc is an 80-minute documentary entitled For The Record, which is split up into five individual segments. Master Of The Dead: Writer/Director George A. Romero covers the genesis of the film from Romero's point of view, and his thoughts on the end result. Into The Camera: The Cast consists of interviews with the principal cast of Canadians (the film was shot in Ontario, by the way). For effects nuts like myself, You Look Dead!: Make Up Effects covers the make-up jobs for the zombies with Greg Nicotero (unfortunately there's no Tom Savini this time around, but I guess George couldn't afford him). New Spin On Death: Visual Effects takes a look at all the CG effects shots done by Steven Lewis and Colin Davies of Toronto's Spin VFX. Both of these sequences go into the visual challenges involved with the continuous shots George had, which were really neat. The last part (and the longest) is A World Gone Mad: Photography and Design, which has a host of folks talking about camera work, costume design and location shooting. All very informative and entertaining.
Character Confessionals are basically character development scenes with a Real World twist, with four of the main characters do the talking head thing with the camera. Michelle Morgan and Shawn Roberts (who played Tony) do a better job than Amy Lalonde (Tracy) and Joe Dinicol (Eliot) in providing emotion with these scenes.
The First Week is a look on set during the first seven days of the the film's shooting with filmmaker Mike Felsher. This is a brief four minutes, but you do get the sense of how the film was shot in an almost guerrilla style, with a small crew and budget.
The Roots feels like it should've been tacked onto the main documentary, as it involves Romero again, talking about his inspiration for the film, and how he was going back to the roots he established with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Familiar Voices is a spoiler of sorts, as it's revealed through unedited audio three rather famous individuals doing audio contributions to the film, all of whom you may not recognize. Then again, the other two individuals who also do voicework in the film that don't 'appear' in this featurette might not be recognized, either.
Lastly, we have the five MySpace Contest Winners who each submitted their own zombie shorts for the DVD to the official MySpace page for DIARY. Ranging from straight horror to slapstick comedy, the shorts include Grand Prize winner The Final Day, and First Prize winner's Deader Living Through Chemistry, Opening Night Of The Living Dead, & Teller, and Run For Your Life.
Unfortunately, DIARY's theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found on the disc, yet NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's theatrical trailer is one of the startup trailers when you pop the disc in. And, if you bought the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION DVD (released the same day as DIARY), one of the startup trailers on that disc is DIARY OF THE DEAD's theatrical trailer (go figure).
Topping off things is a glossy slipcover, replicating the DVD cover. Oh yeah, and those damn f*cking clasps on the side of the clamshell case...
A bevy of great extras and a solid DVD for a film that will grow on fans in time (in a good way). While it might be seen as one of the weaker entries so far in Romero's world of the undead, it's certainly not terrible. What can be seen as botched potential, DIARY OF THE DEAD is one for 'the trolls' of the DEAD films.