Diary of the Dead
Published Mar 3 2008, 16:34 GMT | By Ben Rawson-Jones Director:
George A. RomeroScreenwriters:
George A. RomeroStarring:
Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn RobertsRunning time:
Legendary goremeister George Romero returns with this reboot of his Living Dead zombie franchise, blending inventive thrills with his trademark social commentary. Although far from flawless, Diary of the Dead
is a satisfying antidote to the spate of recent moronic horror films that pander to a dumb audience.
Rather than follow the events of 2005's distinctly average Land of the Dead
, Romero has opted to return to the fateful night when the dead began to rise from their graves, but with a very modern spin. The sombre narrative follows a group of young wannabe filmmakers as their low budget horror film is abandoned when real-life zombies begin to roll into shot.
Then, in a move that befits the so-called 'YouTube Generation', they opt to shoot footage of their fight for survival and upload it onto the web for a global audience. Quite rudely, they don't even ask the zombies to sign a release form for their presence in the film. Do the undead not have image rights? The zombie trade unions will be threatening strike action next.
Everything in Romero's film is conveyed through the lens of overeager filmmaker Jason (Joshua Close), along with various detours to mobile phone footage and CCTV. Fortunately, there's a lack of any Blair Witch
-style motion-sickness inducing shaky camerawork, with the film serving as a fully edited journal of events that combines the relevant footage. The guerrilla shooting style is used to good effect, with certain key moments happening slightly off camera or in the corner of the frame, meaning that there's a genuine sense of surprise due to the lack of obvious signposting that blights many modern films. In particular, a shock suicide early in the film provides a real jolt.
The overriding moral debate that underpins proceedings revolves around whether mankind has become too consumed with visually documenting everything, circling around atrocities like vultures wielding cameras instead of claws. When should one stop shooting with a camera and start shooting with a gun instead? It ties in nicely with the rather eye-opening phenomenon that takes place at music concerts around the globe, where half the audience is more concerned with capturing the on-stage footage on their mobile instead of actively engaging with the performers.
A morose voiceover by Debra (Michelle Morgan), who assembled the footage into the finished package, is far from successful. If it's a dig at the mundane, pseudo-profound youngsters who bombard YouTube with their inane drawl then it works a treat. Yet there's a strong sense that it is present to reinforce the social commentary within the film, but it's all so heavy handed that it detracts from any notion of subtlety at times. A far wiser and fulfilling option would have been to let the audience make their own interpretations, instead of sometimes being relegated to a passive role courtesy of the didactic narration.
However, away from the cerebral content, there's plenty of escapist thrills and gut-splattering to devour. No one quite knows how to dispatch zombies back to hell like Romero, with various moments echoing the uber-inventiveness of Dawn of the Dead
, in which one fiend was famously offed by a helicopter blade. Be prepared to whoop with joy as Diary of the Dead
inventively puts defibrillators, acid and swimming pools to good use. Humour is occasionally deployed too, preventing everything from becoming relentlessly bleak. A detour that sees the filmmakers join forces with a deaf and dumb Amish gentleman, who communicates by writing on a portable blackboard, is utterly surreal and hilarious.
Form and content merge powerfully in Diary of the Dead
, which works well as both a straight horror story and a meditation on contemporary human nature. Interestingly, the treatment of mankind is certainly more sympathetic than in the previous Living Dead films. Here, we definitely know that the roaming zombies are the real enemy - and just like them, George Romero is intent on capturing your brain.