Diary Of The Dead
"The gore quotient is sufficiently high, while the documentary-style direction gives a rawness and immediacy that adds immeasurably to the impact."

Having re-emerged two years ago with the belated conclusion to the living dead series, Land Of The Dead, George A Romero here seeks to reboot the concept. Diary of the Dead presents what amounts to a contemporary revisioning of Night Of The Living Dead as a group of everyday individuals attempt to understand what is going on around them and survive as the dead start returning to life.

Romero's films have always sought to tap into the zeitgeist. If Night was his commentary on the Vietnam war; Dawn Of The Dead his satire on Seventies consumerism, and Land Of The Dead a response to the “war on terror” and the rise of gated communities, Diary is about the emergence of reality television, blogging and Youtube and the rapidity with which the social fabric can collapse in the wake of human or natural disaster.

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We open with some of the first footage of what will later be identified in the film within the film as “the death of death” as a news camera crew, reporting on what first seems like a tragic but routine case of a gunman – significantly an immigrant – killing his family and then himself, and then catching the bodies rising from the gurneys, biting anyone in reach and only being stopped when they are shot in the head.

Next we are introduced to a group of student filmmakers, documenting the making of their own movie. The director, Jason Creed, would like to be a documentarian, but has chosen the horror genre because there is always a market for a good scary movie. Things are not going well on the shoot and tensions are already running high when the news of the dead walking starts to filter through. As the group attempt to reach safety and their loved ones, Jason decides to document the events with his video camera...

Though a perfectly fine film in its own respect Diary Of The Dead has two main problems.

First, it isn't Night Of The Living Dead. By its nature it cannot be an epochal film that will change the history of its genre. Instead it actually feels derivative at times, with its relentless self-reflexivity and media ethics debates straight out of the Cannibal Holocaust playbook but given a contemporary sheen. (I deliberately exclude discussion of The Blair Witch Project here, feeling that it is little more than a Cannibal Holocaust lite that had a brilliant advertising campaign behind it.)

Second, Cloverfield made use of the same basic concept, but beat the independently made, low-budget Diary to the theatres and had the advantage of major studio backing behind it in terms of reaching the mass audience. (Here I'll also make a plug for the similarly themed Spanish horror [Rec], which is currently being given the Hollywood remake treatment.)

As such, I suspect that the majority of those who go to see Diary will be Romero's fans. And, so long as they recognise he is not going to give them another Night, they will not be disappointed. All the old rules are present and correct but have a freshness to them because we know from the outset what the characters do not, that you must not get bitten, that the living dead are slow-moving and that you must shoot them and anyone who dies in the head. The gore quotient is sufficiently high, while the documentary-style direction gives a rawness and immediacy that adds immeasurably to the impact.

I wasn't, however, convinced by the addition of extra diegetic sound effects and some of the rapid fire montages, slow-motion shots, and other more obviously interventionist devices. Cumulatively these draw the viewer out of the film, with it being questionable whether a group struggling to survive and proclaiming their uploads to be a document of the truth would have the time or motivation to do.

In contrast some of the more spectacular zombie deaths – the attempted frying of one's brain with a heart shock machine, the repeated running through of another with a surgical pole as a means of demonstrating that the head shot is the only true stopper, work because they show the characters learning the new rules.

Other plusses include the performances, often one of the weaker points in Romero's cinema, which are uniformly believable, and to a degree the wider social comment, which hits more often than it misses.

Overall, a welcome addition to the living dead cycle.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 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 ****
Chris **

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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