Diary Of The Dead
March 7, 2008
After witnessing several valiant stabs at mimicking the master of zombie horror, the man himself returns to teach us all a lesson. A Social Studies lesson, it would appear, as George A. Romero brings his gory, infection-ridden brand of tangy satire to the screens once more (with added Cloverfield).
Diary Of The Dead sees a bunch of clichéd film students making a horror film. Handheld. In the woods. After bizarre news footage of dead people returning to life is released, the crew jump into the van and head for safety. Tooled up with video recording and editing equipment, would-be documentary maker Jason takes the opportunity to capture the approaching apocalypse on film. In comparing what they’ve seen to what the news stations report, it soon becomes clear- DA DA DAAAA!!! The media may be lying to us…
Everything we see is through Jason’s lens, a device that really isn’t so confusing that it has to be explained to us in a clumsy opening. No doubt Diary began development long before the Cloverfield concept emerged, but in real terms the latter got in there first, which takes some of the ingenuity away from Romero and co. In fact, Diary doesn’t make enough of its raw, handheld philosophy. The shots are rarely thrilling and seem to lack the careful planning and intricacy of Cloverfield‘s ‘just-enough’ principal. On top of this, all anyone seems to do is get pissed off with Jason and his annoying habit of sticking a massive camcorder in their face. The world might be ending, but please cheer up a little.
Thankfully, you can always be sure Romero has guts. Guts, brains and blood, flying all over the screen.
The chilling hospital episode throws up some imaginative slices of disgust, and the cheesy irony at work when a particular shot from the student film is actually realised offers a pleasing diversion from the sombre tone. The glaring omission here is something that Romero re-makers have succesfully leeched onto… fun.
The feeling is similar to that felt when Spielberg made War Of The Worlds: a previously optimistic, playful child-at-heart is overcome with a gloomy distaste for society, and releases this disillusion throgh his work. Here each character is laced with pessimism and a contempt for one another and the world around them. The message may be bleak and you can’t expect happy endings, but Romero’s satire on consumerism in Dawn Of The Dead manages to remain a witty social commentary… what’s the difference here?
Whilst the preachy moral of media corruption is strained and uninteresting, a lesser but more effective focus is the idea that watching something through someone else’s (or even your own) camera lens removes us from terrible events, and removes us from emotion. Whatever we’re seeing, we can watch anything on the news or the internet and always think ‘I’m glad it’s not me’.
So despite the miserable 2-D characters that populate Diary (the stereotypically English professor being the most cringeworthy) and the hindrance of angry political overtones, some of the rather substantial sermon filters through into a touching fable of human instinct, most effective when simply and gently told. And great relish can still be taken from Romero’s iconic zombie madness, delivered with the trademark brute force of the master of the genre. There may be no new features on the undead uglies themselves, but you can never be certain of the survival of any key character in any 5 minute window. That kind of bravery gives most Hollywood horror the middle finger.