Friday, January 22, 2010

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Diary of the Dead

Written & Directed by George A. Romero

Following the initial outbreak of a zombie epidemic, a group of film students and their drunkenly distinguished instructor from the University of Pittsburgh jump all aboard a mammoth RV and hit the road, looking to escape the ever-growing hoards of the undead and hoping to reconnect with their family members that may still be among the living. Along the way, they meet up with other scattered groups of survivors (including a deaf-mute old Amish man who proves quite adept at re-killings), and of course a good number of hungry flesh munchers. Being film students, they seem completely unable to put their cameras down, so we see it all unfold POV style in Mockumentary format, the first cousin of the found-footage genre that is so heavily discussed these days.

George Romero is the mastermind of the entire zombie genre as we know it today. Before he burst onto the scene, zombies were of the old school variety, drugged and brainwashed victims of black magic forced to perform menial tasks for their slave master, as showcased in the classic Bela Lugosi vehicle White Zombie. But with the release of Night of the Living Dead, the zombie became a whole new creature, a shambling corpse returned from the grave with only the most rudimentary of life functions, acting on one natural instinct alone: the need to feed, and their manna was human flesh.

If Night of the Living Dead was an ambitious horror film with subtle nuances of race relations, Dawn of the Dead was symbolic social satire on American consumer culture, Day of the Dead was a scathing critique of the industrial-military complex, and Land of the Dead was an, albeit flawed, parody of class warfare (the Haves versus the Have-Nots), then it's easy to go into Diary of the Dead looking for some deeper context rippling beneath the bloody surface. But this movie just doesn't run all that deep.

Perhaps it's because the four films mentioned above all comprised parts of an unofficial series--although none of the characters carried over from one film to the next, they followed a natural and believable chronology that allowed them to be viewed as segments in an historical timeline of some alternate reality. But this movie takes place at the beginning of a zombie outbreak, one that is obviously not the same as the one from Night of the Living Dead (proven by the abundance of and reliance on modern day technology if nothing else), so it is at best the beginning of a new, modern franchise, or at worst the reboot of an old one.

Truth be told, there is a modicum of subtext here, simultaneously about modern paranoia in a post 9/11 world, and the world's reliance on media outlets that are not all together reliable or honest--but both of these matters are nominal at best and serve more as set dressing than real social commentary.

By no means is this a bad movie, but it's such a shift in tone from Romero's previous zombie epics that it's almost unsettling. Romero had always been a bit of a sardonic outsider in the movie-making world, and here it seems almost as if he, well...sold out. Gone is the ugly, gritty realism that we love, replaced by a beautiful cast of CW coulda-beens, too-glossy and too-trendy for its own good. He does score a few points for slipping in some sly and gentle jabs at the imitators who have bastardized his rules ("You're dead! You don't run! You shamble!"), but that's far from enough to turn this movie into the masterpiece the world was hoping for. If all you're looking for is a little guilty entertainment and gore, then you will admittedly find that here--but if you're looking for something that feels like Vintage Romero, then you're going to have to rewatch some Vintage Romero. This is Romero 2.0, Romero-Lite. This is a Hollywood remake of a George Romero film that George Romero never made.

And they got George Romero to direct it!

View the trailer below!

Rated R
95 Minutes
United States

"If it didn't happen on camera, it's like it didn't happen."

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  1. I agree with you in saying this is not George Romero's best film to date. My main fault with it is that its a bit too boring. It needed more zombies, more action, more gore.

    I do think it has social commentary though. This is Romero commenting on our modern world. On the internet, and its uses. I liked how they portrayed the net as something we can use to comunicate amongst ourselves. People used the net in the film to tell each other how to kill zombies.

    Also it comments on how cant stop watching violence and gore, we just gotta watch everything, we cant turn away no matter hor morbid or horrifying it is, we gotta watch it. The main character would never stop filming.

    Also, to me it was Romero's way of fixing what in my opinion went wrong with Land of the Dead. I like land of the dead now, but at first, I couldnt like it so much for one reason, it didnt happen in the real world. It took place in some futuristic post apocalypse.

    What I liked about Romero's Night, Dawn and Day is that they took place in their respective decades (60s, 70s and 80s) but Land took place in Mad Max world.

    Diary got back to the "real world" having characters who live in our modern times, which I think is what Romero was trying to do, how would young kids from our generation deal with the whole zombie menace?

    Unfortunately, though not a bad movie, it just didnt measure up.

    Lets hope Romero's next zombie opus is better then this one, though Ive seen some footage that just doesnt look all that great. I mean, I saw this sequence of a man fishing and catching a fish...didnt look all that great. But who knows, that wasnt the finished film. Im obviously going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

  2. agreed this is by no means Romero's best effort. while i could see where he was going most of the time in the movie it sadly never made it there or fell on its face. the ideas were there but the execution was all wrong, for my tastes anyway. i don't watch these movies for social commentary i watch them for a zombie story. the heavy handedness of the social commentary in this and Land was pretty silly.

    one of the things Romero gets right usually is finding actors who look thrown together from all walks of life trying to survive a zombie invasion . all the actors here all looked the same. no variety. and sadly no one to root for.

    when this movie was over i didn't feel cheated i just felt sort of blah about the whole thing. the last paragraph summed how i felt pretty well.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    As for Romero commenting on the internet and its uses, that really didn't seem like "Social Commentary" to me. It came across as a prop for a film that tried to be too modern. Interestingly, he *did* make mention of how the news media was no longer reliable in their information, so the survivors had to go to the internet for the truth--which is rife with misinformation, as anyone who has every used the IMDB or Wikipedia can tell you.



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