What’s that limping slowly in the distance?
Wow, that guy looks half-dead… WAIT! He doesn’t look half dead… he IS dead. So… like, why is he making a movie? In case you’re wondering, I’m not talking about a character in George Romero’s latest zombie flick, Diary of the Dead. I’m talking about Romero himself.
Okay, I disagree with some folks on his last undead foray, Land of the Dead. I’ll concede it wasn’t a horrible film, but it wasn’t up to par with his groundbreaking Night venture or the Dawn and Day sequels that followed. “Land” was his prior worked served up with an extra helping of cheese. Sadly, the limping “Diary” is (like a zombie) entirely in shambles.
The story is traditional zombie fare: small group of characters hear early reports of dead returning to life, they gather together in panic and confusion and hit the road, wind up at an isolated house or two, get surprised and/or surrounded by zombies, etc. The conceit of the film is that we are watching it Cloverfield-style: amateur video, although not a single camera, but amateur footage edited by our young adults, who happen to be film students caught up in the apocalyptic madness. It’s not a terrible premise, but in light of Cloverfield’s masterful success, this doesn’t feel intentionally amateur. It feels amateur-amateur.
Instead of moving forward with the undead world he created, Romero attempts to rewind, recording a new zombie apocalypse that serves as a social commentary on the effect of media, our detachment from our surroundings, our rubbernecking obsession, and that darn thing the kids use these days called the “internets”. That’s right, Romero’s striving for relevance makes him look like an old man desperate for cutting edge social commentary yet poking at it with a dull blade. The movie beats you over the brain with insipid platitudes and characterizations of the youth today and their MySpace pages, pushing the notion that THIS is how we’ll inform the world about the truth out there. Fox Mulder would be so proud. To quote Christopher Walken from Batman Returns: Yawn.
Worse still, the movie suffers from what appears to be the early stages of 1982 Blade Runner syndrome… meaning that it appears that the movie was made and someone (Romero, the studio) didn’t think it was strong enough in its original cut. So, how to make it brainless for the zombie viewers? Wrap it with commentary and splashy editing, sprinkling a needless narrator throughout to make it feel even MORE contrived. Smart thinkin’, suits.
Seriously, there is a scene in the movie where some overacting hicks are shooting at a zombie they’ve hung up for target practice. As they blow it to pieces, a bloody tear comes down it’s cheek (evoking that old litter commercial with the sad Native American stereotype) and the passionless narrator asks “do we DESERVE to be saved?” This is the kind of preachy treacle artists accuse Christians of bludgeoning viewers with in Christian-made films. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies with a message; this whole website exists on the premise that nearly every film contains a worldview or sermon inherent in the narrative. Exploring those themes and messages is fun. However, when a zombie movie lumbers at you with this much syrupy sermonizing, you want to shoot yourself in the head.
I would unpack the films narrative themes, but sometimes it just isn’t worth it. Better to remember some of the zombie narrative themes from great genre offerings like Shaun of the Dead (I’ve just posted the audio review of that GREAT film for you, just follow this link) or good ones like Resident Evil. Peeking into someone’s diary might sound titillating, but only if the person is interesting.