For 40 years now, George A. Romero has been treating the cinematic world to his various takes on what would happen if suddenly the dead decided they weren’t quite as dead as we may have imagined. His latest installation, the rather tepidly received Diary of the Dead is no different, though he does employ a new (to Romero, at least)Â method of delivery. Instead of a typical presentation, Romero has decided to go with a more Cloverfield meets student film vibe, as the entire film plays out through the lens of various handheld cameras, cell phones, and security cameras. While this idea is relatively innovative to the Romero world, it’s nothing new and Romero’s actors are painfully lacking in the realism department.
Diary of the Dead centers around a group of University of Pittsburgh film students who have their cameras rolling when the news first breaks that the dead are rising, and decide to leave them going to document the events. Aside from a wickedly clever jab at newer super-chargedÂ zombie films (28 Days Later and whatnot) in which a student working on a mummy film tells hisÂ actor to slow down because “You’re a corpse, for Chrissake! If you try to run that fast, your ankles are gonna snap off!”, there’s not much bite to Romero’s latest social commentary. Focussing on one character’s desire to film everything that happens, the commentary on our tech-happy society grows stale almost immediately as we listen to his girlfriend repeatedly whine about him hiding behind the camera.
“If it didn’t happen on the camera then it didn’t happen?!” she keeps imploring him, all while pouting at the camera and grousing to their friends. At some point it feels like either we need her to just get over it, or we need more original dialogue to approach the topic. As it stands, her complaints feel forced and repetitive. But that’s a common thread that runs through most of the script. The dialogue is iffy, especially considering that what we’re watching is supposed to be “reality” rather than simply a film. In this respect, Diary of the Dead misses the mark completely. Whereas other films following the same premise could at least casually be mistaken for a self-made film, the poor acting, high quality film, and well-done score, make this one of the most over-produced home videos ever created.
But the zombies and the gore still work. In fact, it’s the makeup and the stumbling zombies that make the movie somewhat enjoyable. The decaying flesh and groping hands of a zombie have never looked as realistic as they do under the less-than-perfect lens of a student’s camera. Diary of the Dead is the student horror film that every student wishes they could make, and really, any student could… if they had a few million dollars in their budget for makeup and special effects. Aside from these goodies, there’s not much separating Diary of the Dead fromÂ the low budget gorefests that have become the staple of Dimension Extreme. But when a film has Romero’s name headlining it, you expect a little more.
Zach’s Rating: C-
Perfect For: Undying (or undead) fans of Romero
Stay Away if: You’d rather support a student film made by an actual student
To purchase George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, visit Amazon