Diary of the Dead (2008)
Alright let’s get this out of the way: George Romero’s Diary of the Dead is nowhere near as good as Night. Or Dawn. Or even Day (which, unlike a lot of folks, I really like). It is, however, better than Land (which, unlike a lot of folks, I also really like). I had to get that out of the way because any real horror fan that watches Diary of the Dead is going to make comparisons to Romero’s other brain-munching films, even if they’re not trying to. I did it myself when the movie began, but I quickly got over that and just started judging it on its own merits.
And compared to most of the horror films that get theatrical releases, Diary of the Dead is a success. Plus, it’s got everything you’d expect from a Romero zombie flick: slow-lumbering zombies, awesome kills and, yep, that ol’ Romero social commentary. This time around, he’s got his sights set on the media, and the version of the “truth” that floods the airwaves every day. Basically, it’s George Romero vs. Fox News, with much brain destroying involved. (Not that the Fox News folks are big on brains. Zing!)
As you might have been able to figure out by reading the title of my site, I’m a big fan of all things zombie. Good, bad, whatever. If it’s zombie-oriented, I’m probably gonna see the movie and hope for the best. And with the successful remake of Dawn of the Dead, along with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (technically, not a zombie movie, I know, but work with me here), there was a resurgence in zombie movies that allowed Romero to continue his series, bringing the whole genre full circle. But really, nobody does it better than Uncle George, and he proves that with Diary.
My main concern about the film before seeing it was the whole “found footage” style that Romero was going for. I know this type of movie seems to be all the rage here lately (see also: Welcome to the Jungle, [Rec], and, of course, Cloverfield). It hasn’t quite gotten to the point of being overdone yet, but when you’ve seen the concept taken to such heights as we saw in Cloverfield, it’s hard not to make comparisons to other films that use the same schtick.
And the gimmick really only works part of the time in Diary of the Dead. Romero created a plausible scenario for someone to walk around with a camera (the main characters are film students, shooting a horror film when the outbreak occurs), but it still feels contrived most of the time. And the idea that one of the survivors would cut together footage of her friends (and family) being killed and re-animated, and add music and a voice-over is just a little bit too much to believe.
And that voice-over. That’s the biggest flaw in the movie, I think. It’s almost as if Romero wasn’t quite confident enough in his ability to get his point across, so he had to have someone spell everything out for the audience. It doesn’t kill the movie, by any means, but it’s completely unnecessary and the movie would’ve been much better without it.
And while we all claim that we love Romero’s work because of things like the aforementioned social commentary that he infuses his films with, let’s face it, even more important to most of us is the zombie killing fun. And I can tell you in confidence that there are some pretty awesome kills in the movie, involving swords, arrows, acid and, yes, a defibrillator (note: does not actually cause zombie death, but cool eye-exploding does occur).
Bottom line: Diary of the Dead is a worthy entry into the zombie genre. It is by no means a great film, but it’s fun and it’s entertaining and while it falls short of their greatness, it still fits in well with Romero’s other undead offerings. The found footage aspect of it is not executed quite as well as we’ve seen in other films (though Romero does get creative by integrating security camera footage, cellphone footage and news footage, to various degrees of success) but it does create an urgency and tension missing from most horror films these days.
Viewed on DVD (Personal Collection).