Diary Of The Dead


Reviewed by: Chris

Diary Of The Dead
"Diary Of The Dead’s own script does its best to kill off the film."

My usual criterion when watching a movie is, did it entertain, inspire or educate me? Diary Of The Dead did none of these. It might have acceptably passed the time as a filler at an all-night horror festival. It wasn’t. It was another DOA wheeled out by one-hit-wonder George A. Romero (who made the best zombie film ever - back in 1968 - but has refused to lie down and stop breathing ever since).

It would be nice to say the grandmaster of zombie films (he makes little else) has returned with full vigour. He hasn’t. His original film is still the industry standard on zombies. But he has never really managed a new take on the theme. We’ve had The Evil Dead, which outpaced him on terror. We’ve had Braindead and Shaun Of The Dead which were funny. We’ve had pastiche in the form of Planet Terror. And we’ve had 28 Days Later, which was quite stylish. We’ve even had superior cult offerings in the form of Re-Animator. You might not have liked all those films, but at least they had different angles. Romero doesn’t. His best effort is the now rather passé device of a video diary. The diary is unrealistic; comparisons between zombies and terrorists - and then swarms of migrants - are badly thought out. The acting is atrocious, and even the characters don’t seem scared, so why should the audience?

Copy picture

If that doesn’t put you off, then I am sure you will enjoy it very much. The plot follows a group of film students making a zombie movie. Their efforts are interrupted by an outbreak of a virus worldwide which brings dead people back to life. Zombies pick the students off – did you guess? - as they try to escape first in a camper van and then to a fortified mansion. Undeterred by this threat, our dedicated scholars continue filming, editing their work, and uploading it to the internet. I should say at this point that Romero fans can have great fun looking out for his cameo, or spotting famous voices posing as newsreaders. These include Wes Craven, Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro and Simon Pegg. All very clever. (The media are initially trying to do a cover-up – they could have helped more by making his film for him.)

Diary Of The Dead’s own script does its best to kill off the film. One character remarks “a $100,000 education and I can’t even find my way out of warehouse.” Another, “in the end it’s all just noise.” And the clincher, “you’re supposed to be affected but you’re not.”

This talentless affair came as a surprise to me. Barely before the opening credits had finished, an intertextual montage of movies within movies, blogs, downloads, were brilliantly edited together and gave me high hopes. But the visual ideas were short-lived, as were the script references. “The president continues to monitor things from his ranch,” reminiscent of GWB's delayed response to 9/11, lead me to believe there would be scintillating references that likened zombies to terrorists. In poorer taste, an immigration theme rears its head. Hoards are “crossing the border.” A promise of descent into animal behaviour with “what gets into our heads when we see something horrible?” was also poorly followed up. A pun between the shooting of guns and shooting film was repeatedly laid on very thick without leading anywhere.

There are some nice touches, but not nice enough. A zombie gets his head burnt away with acid and is impressively gory. Occasionally there are cutesy lines: “He looked nice. You know – not dead.” (If I could believe it was parody I might have liked it.)

But the video diary idea was done much better in The Blair Witch Project or the very unpretentious Cloverfield (released just before Diary Of The Dead hits our screens). Having worked with film students, I found the ones portrayed very unconvincing. Maybe not in Romero’s day, but film grads and undergrads today work with incredible precision, conscious of the costs involved. Romero’s students looked like uneducated high-schoolers given an expensive camera and no academic training. Footage, in spite of gimmicks like date displays in the left hand corner, is often unconvincing. Zooming in to hold a video phone clip in sharp frame, without even a steadycam, and with the phone user’s head miraculously vanishing, was impressive – especially in a moving vehicle.

Diary Of The Dead will still appeal to fans. They will be more forgiving. I have enjoyed many a Troma film that is much, much worse, but this didn’t do it for me. It lacked vitality and originality. It was a disorganised, irritating mess.

There was one character I liked. It was a deaf and dumb Amish farmer, coolly throwing sticks of dynamite at the undead. If only the other characters had been so well-developed. If this is the only film showing at your cinema, I strongly suggest you lock yourself in the house until the programme finds new life.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2008
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Film students try to record the end of civilisation as they know it when the dead begin to walk. Plus read our with George A Romero.
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Read more Diary Of The Dead reviews:

Tony Sullivan ****
Scott Macdonald ****
Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: George A Romero

Writer: George A Romero

Starring: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany, Nick Alachiotis, Matt Birman

Year: 2007

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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