Diary Of The Dead

Director    George A Romero
Starring    Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Scott Wentworth, Shawn Roberts, Joe Dinicol
Release    15 FEB (US) 7 MAR (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars


11th March 2008

Zombie films by George A Romero seem to be taking on a bus-like quality. After two decades of waiting for a follow-up to the flawed and rotting diamond that was Day of the Dead, we get a brace of follow up films in almost as many years. The first of those, Land of the Dead, was a crushing disappointment to many fans, mainly, due to its setting in terms of the timeline.

Why? Because zombies are only really interesting as a cinematic device when they're jarring - against the norm. Every successful zombie film has concerned itself with the dawning of the zombie age and the gradual collapse of the society that we recognise. There is a nihilistic thrill to be had from watching the collapse of civilisation, and it's that which makes a great zombie movie. Land of the Dead gave us a civilisation that has already crashed and burned, and asked us to imagine what the society that replaced it might be like. And we just didn't care. It would seems that Romero has realised this and has decided to give the slavering zombie-loving masses what they want; the end of the world, not the beginning of a new one.

Diary of the Dead sees a group of student filmmakers on the first night of the zombie outbreak. They're out filming a horror movie for their film course when news of the hungry dead starts to be broadcast. Essentially, this is all happening contemporaneously with Night of the Living Dead, and so we know that what lies ahead is not going to involve the situation blowing over and the National Guard coming in to save the day. The students head out of the city, toward the country home of central character Debra (Morgan). They are the kind of clichéd rag-tag bunch whose bickering is beloved trait of Romero's zombie genre. We have a geek, two jocks, a princess, a old and drunken wise man and a mousy young woman. Oh, and a prick in Jason (Close), the director of the student movie.

Over the course of the three-day timeline of the film, Jason decides to make a video diary of apocalyptic events. His reason for this is so that he can upload whatever footage is being shot to the internet in order to "save lives". When we listen to his excited voice exclaiming that their footage has 70,000 hits, we may allow ourselves to doubt that reasoning. Rather, it's more accurate to say that he uses the camera in the same way that annoying heroes and heroines of faux-reality films always do; to allow a sense of detachment from the increasingly horrific events around them.

Over the course of their journey, we see news clips that show the situation being spun into something much safer by the news networks (this spin is the driving force behind Jason's determination to get his footage on the internet), we meet lots of interesting new dead people and a mixture of live ones; some ghastly, some soon to be zombies, some just trying to survive. Unlike the static locale of Romero's previous efforts, this plays like a zombie road movie; the tensions and strains of a disparate bunch is present and correct, but the constant movement gives us a new kind of danger that hadn't much been explored in his previous movies.

In going back to the beginning of the zombie outbreak, Romero can re-interpret his first film in the context of the modern world. And he does so with a real sense of urgency; Romero used to make zombie movies with some social commentary added in, but Diary of the Dead is more of a social commentary with bonus zombies. We are invited to look at the stresses and strains of our own life, and whether the explosion of media outlets has kept us better informed or just encouraged us to ignore the world around us in order to concentrate on ourselves.

The acting is occasionally patchy, about the usual standard found in a zombie movie. Morgan also follows Romero's recently acquired habit of giving his heroes and heroines flat, emotionless voices. This is something you may take issue with as it detracts from dramatic tension when the main character sounds as lifeless as the zombies in pursuit. But then again, maybe that's the point; that in this time of great stress and terror, one cannot help but become detached and dead inside. Or maybe Morgan just can't act.

This is a return to form for Romero; a more important work than the disposable Land of the Dead, bleaker and more cerebral than the (still rather excellent) Snyder remake - the question "Are we even worth saving?" is more overt this time than in any of the previous films. It's the work of a man who seems to want humanity to remember how to care for one another. Zombies may not sound like the perfect medium to convey that message, but there is more warmth and compassion for mankind in this movie than one can find in a dozen "profound" Fountains or Solarises.

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