Thursday 3 July 2008

Diary Of The Dead (2008)

Thursday 3 July 2008
Writer & Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Shawn Roberts (Tony Ravello), Joshua Close (Jason Creed), Michelle Morgan (Debra), Joe Dinicol (Eliot Stone), Scott Wentworth (Andrew Maxwell), Phillip Riccio (Ridley Wilmott), George Buza (Biker), Amy Lalonde (Tracy Truman), Tatiana Maslany (Mary), Tino Monte (Newscaster), Megan Park (Francine Shane), Martin Roach (Stranger), Alan Van Sprang (Colonel), Matt Birman (Zombie Trooper), Laura DeCarteret (Bree), Janet Lo (Asian Woman), Chris Violette (Gordo), Todd William Schroeder (Brody), Alexandria DeFabiis (Zombie), Nick Alachiotis (Fred), George A. Romero (Chief Of Police) & Boyd Banks (Armorist)

A group of students shooting a horror movie find themselves in the middle of a genuine zombie outbreak...

The fifth entry in legendary director George A. Romero's "Dead Saga" is a contemporary re-boot; one that uses the camcorder POV technique popularized by The Blair Witch Project ('99). A bunch of student filmmakers, led by director Jason Creed (Joshua Close), are shooting low-budget horror "The Death Of Death" in some woods. Ironically, a genuine outbreak of zombies occurs, forcing the friends to band together on a road trip to safety -- with Creed insisting they video-tape their journey as a permanent record...

Admittedly, it's a juicy idea that injects a bit of spirit into the shambling zombie genre, but Diary Of The Dead left me with mixed feelings. I think half the problem is Romero doesn't deliver the realism this premise demanded. It's agreeably low-budget, but CGI blood spurts are noticeable, and very few of the actors behave in a totally believable way. If anything, it made me appreciate the derided cast of Cloverfield, who are comparatively beyond-realistic in response to their own B-movie trauma. The students here stand around grimly and explain the film's social commentary in soundbites for thicko's on the back row ("if it's not on camera, it never really happened.")

Romero also strains credibility by explaining the professional techniques achieved in a homemade video. It makes sense these kids are using hi-def cameras, but the presence of surround sound isn't explained (likewise in Cloverfield), and Romero has his characters mention they've added scary music to the recording, and took the time to steal security camera tapes and edit on-the-fly with a laptop. I suppose you just have to go with it, but anyone hoping for a truly homemade Blair Witch feel will be disappointed.

After a shaky start, things improve once the Pittsburgh students find some gung-ho survivors, who are typically unhelpful and vaguely more threatening than the undead. There's the stilted air of a video-game cut-scene throughout Diary, but it eventually amasses enough interesting sequences to win you over. Some of the zombie-kills are effective and gory (loved the corrosive acid head shot), while the incidents along the way (a zombie cop, farmhouse siege, run-in with some corrupt National Guard, zombies in a swimming pool, and a mansion-based finale that plays like adult Scooby Doo) are quite entertaining. I just wasn't convinced new ground was being broken, as the satirical aspect to zombies has worn pretty thin. Mind you, the film's notion that, when faced with an outbreak of flesh-eating zombies, most people would upload/download YouTube videos, made me chuckle.

For zombie-fans, Diary Of The Dead definitely offers something a little different and should be commended. The fact it comes from Romero (the genre's modern-day grandfather) actually makes it essential viewing for horror fans. It's certainly more interesting than the tiresome Resident Evil spectacles, but some may be irritated the latest in his revered saga doesn't continue Land Of The Dead's ('05) narrative. But that box-office disappointment Romero clearly felt his "...Of The Dead" storyline was running on fumes after 4 decades.

By rebooting the concept and giving Diary a visceral immediacy afforded by handheld cameras, this is undoubtedly an improvement -- but I'm just not that interested in zombies now. And really, shouldn't the 68-year-old Romero let it go? What else is there to say? He even ends the film with a reprise of an iconic scene from Night Of The Living Dead ('68), with check-shirted hillbillies shooting zombies for ghoulish fun, as our heroine ponders whether humans are worth saving. But didn't Romero make that point 40 years ago?

Overall, Diary Of The Dead's a decent distraction -- just not as gripping and believable as Blair Witch, nor as ostentatious and compelling as Cloverfield. As an unusual twist on a bog-standard zombie film, this will satisfy its target audience of zombie addicts -- but Romero's on-the-nose satire, a tepid storyline that holds few surprises, and bland performances, far outweigh the moments of tension and gruesome fun.

Dimension Films
Budget: $2 million
95 minutes