Thursday, May 22, 2008

George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead" (2007)

Diary of the Dead is a return to the roots for George A. Romero as he brings the story back to an initial breakout of zombies and combines it with the technology and media of today. Anyone who says that Romero has fallen from the top couldn't be more wrong. Ever since the underrated Land of the Dead, people have been slamming Romero for God knows what. Whether it's because they don't understand the direction he wanted to take his series in, or they just expected more, they are wrong in my opinion. I say it every time I review a horror film made in this decade. It's A LOT better than the majority of the other stuff being made these days. It's independent, it's raw, it's low budget, it's classic Romero work. It isn't at the level of the first three Dead films, that's for sure, but it doesn't have to be.

Romero shot this film using the first person technique we've seen in films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and [REC]. Well listen up folks, that's where the comparison betewen Dead and those films ends. This is a very well shot film from a technical standpoint. Romero conveniently makes his lead characters aspiring film directors, meaning they're nearly pros with the camera on their shoulders. You won't find the nauseating shaky cam in this film. Romero splices stock footage into this film within a film to create a true documentary feeling.

As with most of Romero's films, there is a very strong and very obvious social commentary aspect of this film. It's a little forced to us, but I'm fine with that. Maybe Romero really wanted the viewer to get it this time. I sure did. It put the media and technology and the human race as a whole (especially with that poetic final line) to the fore front. It makes us answer all the questions of "What would you do?" in our heads. If you were in Jason, the main director's place, how far would you go to tell people the truth? And so on and so forth. It puts life in perspective. The fear of zombies has never been the fear Zack Snyder tried to create with his Dawn of the Dead remake. It's the fear of the unknown, the fear of the world turning to shit. As Deb states in this film, it's the fear that every person that dies from now on will rise from their death, and walk amongst the living, until put down for good. Romero beautifully captures this feeling of helplessness in this film by placing us in certain locales, such as the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Technology collides with the Amish. The final setting of the large and obviously expensive house wonderfully sets us into the idea that even money can't buy you protection from this disaster. Wherever you may go, you're most likely screwed. Romero carries this commentary greatly throughout the film. The plot isn't what is supposed to make you wonder, the message is.

The only things that make me take a half star off this film is the lack of a really memorable character, spotty acting, and a few sequences of unimpressive gore. I'm not one to rave and not critique. What Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead were missing were the memorable characters. It didn't have a "Roger" from Dawn of the Dead, etc. There are complaints of bad acting in this film, and while none of these kids are going to go on to become award winners, what does that matter for a zombie film? Romero's zombie films have never been about award winning acting. Joseph Pilato as Capt. Rhodes in Day of the Dead is easily the greatest performance we've seen in a Romero "Dead" film and even that falls well short of taking home a trophy. Perhaps being the viewer of atrocities like Zombie 3, 4, and 5 make me realize how damn good Romero's films, all of them, are. I'm not giving him a pass for being "not as bad" as those films, but damn people, his films are about the only in the genre with any substance to them at all. He left the studios, went back to independent life, and made one hell of a low budget zombie film.

Romero's "Diary of the Dead" is a fantastic film. It's not as good as his first three, but I'd place it over the still good Land of the Dead. It's a solid addition to a wonderful 5-part series that I look forward to seeing more of. Just remember that when you watch this film that Romero was out to achieve something beyond scaring the viewers. The substance is there if you take a minute and look at this film for what it really is. And Jesus, give the guy a break. Did you really think this was going to be good as his first three Dead films????


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