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Overall Rating
3.24

Awesome: 24.24%
Worth A Look30.3%
Average: 6.06%
Pretty Bad: 24.24%
Total Crap: 15.15%

3 reviews, 15 user ratings


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George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A noble experiment."
4 stars

Would George A. Romero have a directorial voice without zombies? Sure; he's made plenty of other types of films. But it's the walking dead he keeps returning to, partly because the money is always there for zombie flicks, partly because the flesh-eater is, for Romero, such a prodigious springboard for commentary. Whatever's wrong with society when Romero sits down to write the script can be funneled into a tale of survivors vs. the voracious undead.

Diary of the Dead, Romero's reboot of the series he started in 1968, can't help but come off a bit been-there-done-that. The whole thing is "found footage," just as in The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and [REC] the latter, I have to say, packed more of a nightmarish punch than anything in Diary. We're following a group of film students who happen to be shooting a cheapjack mummy flick out in the woods when the strange reports begin to trickle in. The recently dead are rising; they get up and kill (if you're me, your mind will fill in with "The people they kill get up and kill!"). We see some news footage wherein two corpses leave their stretchers and start gnawing on people in the background of the shot; the resulting chaos is seen glancingly, in a panic, and is chilling to witness.

Why do the camera operators in these films keep shooting? The practical answer is that if they didn't, there wouldn't be a movie. The textual answer is that they can't help recording and recording, and maybe trying to put some camera-eye distance between themselves and the horror. Romero uses this for a good deal of satire, which sometimes hits and sometimes misses. In the era of YouTube and reality TV and all the rest, when people broadcast themselves in all their mundanity, Romero must feel that an entire generation doesn't think something is real unless it's on camera. He must feel this so strongly, in fact, that he has a character come out and say it not once but twice.

Yeah, you and I get it. Maybe other viewers need a sledgehammer more than a scalpel (and Romero's writing has always been more than a little blunt, too on-the-nose). Diary of the Dead (the more accurate title Document of the Dead having been used for Roy Frumkes' 1985 behind-the-scenes Dawn of the Dead doc) is meant to capture the fancy of the same kids who came out for Cloverfield, and Romero has a lot he wants to tell the youngsters. Don't assume the government will come to the rescue: post-Katrina was a sharp reality slap on that score. Don't trust the military. Once again, as in Land of the Dead, the rich are scum who hide in luxury while the outside world goes mad. And humanity's true, ugly colors come out during the zombie catastrophe; Romero seals the film by asking if we're worth saving. What the fuck, he seems to be saying, let the zombies have it all.

That produces a nihilistic chill worthy of Diary's predecessors. Many have tried, but few (if any) have successfully aped Romero's particular vision of apocalypse; the closest was a comedy, Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, which played very much as though its events were plausibly what was happening across the pond while Romero's Pittsburgh survivors were contending with the same problem. In Romero's apocalypse, the brutish and soulless hold sway, and that's just the humans.

The gore here is a mix of practical effects (by Greg Nicotero, who got his start with Romero on Day of the Dead) and computer-generated splatter. Sometimes it jars the eye. Sometimes, though, the CGI enables effects that wouldn't have been possible otherwise, like the sight of a zombie's skull being eaten away by hydrochloric acid in one unbroken shot as he shambles towards us. That gratified the old gorehound in me, as did the longbow wielded by the students' saturnine professor (Scott Wentworth, the oldest and best of the actors here).

There is a genuinely terrible scene meant to jokingly echo the mummy footage that begins the movie, but it doesn't last long. Neither does the movie, which ends rather abruptly, as though the student filmmakers (or Romero) had run out of camera batteries. But the last images speak of ghastly inhumanity on several levels, and dead eyes stare out at us accusingly.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16408&reviewer=416
originally posted: 04/24/10 13:44:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/06/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess It might be time to laid the franchise to rest 3 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Should have beat the zombies over the head with the message instead of the filmgoer. 2 stars
1/02/10 art THE ONLY GOOD ZOMBIE FLICK IS 1932's white z0mbie, 1 stars
10/23/09 PAUL SHORTT UGLY, SIMPLISTIC AND BRAINLESS 1 stars
5/05/09 sandy freeman wow. SO bad! horrible acting, horrible dialogue. disappointment. 1 stars
12/21/08 Craig D. Not as good as Romero's other Dead movies, but it still blows away everything else. 4 stars
7/23/08 Ivana Mann Romero is becoming a bargain-basement narcissist. Transparently pretentious garbage! 1 stars
7/22/08 km fucking awful, this movie is one of the worst films ever made and just a piece of shit. 1 stars
6/30/08 mr.mike Starts well and grows tiresome. That review above was longer than "War and Peace." 4 stars
6/07/08 Matt Not very scary. The characters never even seemed afraid. Not very impressive, but still fun 3 stars
4/27/08 Jayme Isaacs Good Movie A George A Romero Classic 4 stars
4/16/08 Carlos R. Guzman Reflex what I've learnt in pol.ideology class; Below Night/Dawn but above "Land" 5 stars
3/04/08 Vince Really liked it. The social commentary is almost "dead" on 5 stars
2/18/08 blyskalp Action is good 4 stars
2/18/08 debdahlin maybe I've just seen too many zombie movies lately 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Feb-2008 (R)
  DVD: 20-May-2008

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