George Romero. George George George. You created a mini-genre out of what was at the time an oddity: a monster movie (specifically zombies, for their unique properties) which also was a statement about modern day life. Countless follow-ups by you and others continued this trend and made Zombie Movies an event worth collecting friends for. You wrote the rulebook. You were a pioneer. Sure, Land of the Dead was a little dorky, but it was a hoot and a half. This Diary of the Dead of yours is just rewarmed leftovers from the past 13 years of filmmaking (from To Die For, as my sage companion noted, through Cloverfield).
One of the most tragic things about Diary of the Dead is the moments that are flashes of inspiration. It’s like someone sat down with a compendium of the lore and said, “Ok, what hasn’t been done?” and then did it. Our band of survivors being the cast of a student-grade mummy film? Awesome. A zombie dispatched at the same time its victim suicides with a scythe? Sweet. Um…there were a few others but I already can’t remember. My point is, the humor is always there, lurking under the surface, in any zombie movie, but here it’s used for evil rather than for good.
Our filmmakers are shooting a mummy movie (the original proto-zombie, yes George we know it was you who invented the modern-day zombie) and the world goes hooey. Nothing new there, of course. The MESSAGE is that the cameraman doesn’t stop filming, even when fleeing, even when seeing things that would make a sane person respond by perhaps fainting or screaming. The camera is passed between participants — even participants who yelled at cinematographer #1 to stop filming already — to get better coverage..
“But wait,” you might interrupt at this point. “You freaking LOVED Cloverfield. That’s the same thing.” And for the record, I enjoyed Blair Witch as well. For one thing, the latter two films used the cameras as if the character were really using the camera — dropping it, running with it, addressing it directly, sneaking around with it, dropping their camera hand to show the ground or their leg at a moment when a character would do that. The characters are filming in Cloverfield because they think there should be a record of this event, and also to remain emotionally detached from their terror, and out of Gen X-Y habit, perhaps as well. Later it’s their only connection to “not here.” In Blair Witch, of course, they were specifically documenting what happened to them in the woods, so it was more of an obligation to record everything even when it was a burden. Diary of the Dead is a hackneyed attempt to hijack that convention with none of the justification and all of the moralizing.
Also wrong with DotD: There are forced interviews and unaccountable hostilities among the players that are unclear. And then there are the horrible horrible characters who say terrible terrible dialogue just past the ability for us to mock them. There’s even an older, weary pseudo-statesman professor, British of course, whose dialogue literally smacks of narration no matter what he says. It hurts to watch. My companion recalled Gus Van Sant’s culturally prescient 1995 film To Die For, where Nicole Kidman’s character had a pathological need to be on television in order to exist (I am paraphrasing) and every meta-narrative since then has been more and more diluted from that message. See also: the reality-TV boom.
Diary of the Dead, even for zombie diehards like my little group (we watched Shadow: Dead Riot, for pete’s sake), was not very good at all. I mourn. The rating is Catch the Network Premiere for the few bits that were fun and creative, but it will never be on network television, so…
MPAA Rating R-strong horror violence and gore, pervasive language
Release date 2/15/08
Time in minutes 95
Director George Romero
Studio Dimension Films