Review: George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead
PLOT: While shooting a student horror film in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods, something horrible begins to happen. When one crew member is watching the local news, they find that there are several reports of the dead coming back to life. Anarchy and horror seems to be everywhere while they begin to wonder how serious and truthful the problem really is. When they decide to head home, they find that the reports are true. Throughout, the director of the film decides to turn his camera on and let the real life horrors tell their own story.
How much is too much when it comes to media? Whenever some horrible act of nature or otherwise happens, how quickly it spreads via internet. Whether it ends up on YouTube or someone‘s blog, it’s going to be seen by more people than ever before. And then there is the general media that has the ability to tell their story, which may not always be exactly truthful. It is this that inspires GEORGE A. ROMERO‘S DIARY OF THE DEAD. The desire to tell a story, to see things through the camera lens. And what is most shocking about Romero’s latest date with the dead is that it feels fresh and relevant, even with the onslaught of Blair Witch type films recently coming out. It is also very impressive that I feel like I haven’t seen this before. In the past year or so, I have probably watched almost thirty zombie films (yes, there are many out there) but I’d never experienced one quite like Diary.
It starts off with a crew of student filmmakers in the Pennsylvania woods making a horror film. Jason Creed (Josh Close) is the typical film school auteur making a killer mummy flick. When one of the crew finds a curious story on the local news, they realize something bad is happening. The dead are getting up and attacking the living. Yep, it’s been done a thousand times before, but Romero’s choice to shoot the film first person ends up being a smart one. I guess you could say, what’s the difference between zombies and some kind of monster in New York, but for some reason there is one. I liked CLOVERFIELD quite a bit, it was a fun popcorn monster movie. But Diary is a statement on the human animal, and honestly feels more like a character study with terror elements than a horror film.
As the crew tries to figure out what is happening, the find themselves on the road in a Winnebago. Most want to go home and check on their families, and Jason wants to get to his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) and make sure she’s okay. On the way, they find that the dead really are walking, Mary (Tatiana Maslany) has to plow a few down much to her dismay. Thus, they begin to question what they have to do to survive. Nobody knows what’s going down, they just realize it’s all bad. Finally, when Jason finds Debra is okay, she suddenly seems to be less important to him. It is soon all about filming everything he can. While the audience most certainly will be telling him to put the damn camera down, so does she. But he has made his choice, he needs to film everything because he wants to tell the truth. While the news is reporting everything but that, he feels it is his duty. And with the power of the internet, he is able to do this, while receiving a massive amount of hits. In fact, the idea of seeing these horrors through the camera lens becomes addictive for those in possession of it.
Once again, Romero proves that even when corpses are rising and taking big old chunks off of human flesh, they are almost never the downfall of the living folk. Nope, from early on, it is paranoia and fear. With Diary, it is an overwhelming desire to show the violence to the world. This is also a return to his roots in that this is his first independently produced zombie film in two decades. And with that, he is at his very best with Diary. It is fascinating watching these people as tragedy unfold right in front of their eyes. And like most, they react to what is going on around them and not always in the most productive way. This is a thought-provoking and scary tale, that leaves you with a hard to forget final image. Once again, questions are raised and some answers are given, yet it may not be the answers we would hope for when real life horror comes crashing down on us.
The biggest difference between this, Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project (all of which I liked) is the fact that Diary is shot beautifully. Romero has made a fascinating film that acts as a horror movie, but it is far more than that. In fact, it is so well shot, you could even consider it a fault considering the style and approach. I know these guys are film students, but the fact that they supposedly put this film together is a little questionable. This, and the fact that the camera remains on during many brutal moments gets a bit hard to believe. Yet the script and Josh Close help suspend disbelief. And the good news for those who get queasy with the constantly moving camera, you will find that this a much easier ride than the previously mentioned works thanks to Romero and a terrific DP, Adam Swica.
I also feel that some horror audiences might be turned off due to the fact that this is a character driven film. I wanted to be more terrified than I was. The scares are there, and they work well, but I wouldn’t have minded a little more tension. Yet thankfully, I did care about most of the characters. Yes, they fit the clichés of this kind of film but the actors are good enough to make it all believable, which is also assisted by a Romero‘s smart and intriguing script. This is George A. Romero doing what he does best. He is making a statement about the good and evil of the human condition, albeit it is a troubling one. Diary of the Dead finds him doing his best work since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD. This is a haunting and paranoid world he has created, and very much worth your while to watch the dead rise again. My rating 8.5/10 -- JimmyO