Thursday, October 20, 2011

Diary of the Dead (2007)

In Diary of the Dead, zombie movie king George Romero tackles the zombie apocalypse - again - this time in a cinéma vérité/found footage style. As an established film director, Romero makes good use of the format, casting the main characters as film students working on a low budget, independent horror film of their own, when the zombie outbreak occurs, and they find themselves in the perfect position to record the decline of modern civilization. As film students, they know how to use cameras, and we actually get multiple angles of view in many scenes, as well as some on-the-fly editing performed on laptops before their videos are uploaded to youtube (as long as the server lasts) for the world to see.

The one major flaw of this film, however - other than the amateur acting - is that it beats you over the head with its social commentary. Romero's zombie films have always been a social commentary - most notably on the effects of consumerism - but in the past the commentary was subtle. It was something you only thought about after you watched the movie - it wasn't necessarily obvious during viewing, and it certainly didn't distract you from enjoying the action and horror. But here, in Diary of the Dead, we are bludgeoned with it - and the bulk of it isn't even directly related to the zombies, from what I could tell.

The worst of it was the commentary on how people "hide" behind their cameras to distance themselves from the world. It's a valid concept, and worth exploring, but the way the film approached it was too preachy. It seems a relic of a bygone era, the pre-internet age that the older generations are still trapped in. They have a hard time adapting to the new, digital world. As a photographer, I am frankly insulted when somebody suggests that standing behind my camera causes me to miss out on experiencing life. In a sense, it's absolutely true, but that view completely ignores all the good that standing behind a camera can accomplish - to say nothing of the fact that some people are more suited to be behind the camera than in front of it, and that that isn't a bad thing or a character flaw or whatever. We need all kinds of people in this world. Different ones will have different roles, and we shouldn't disparage the ones who choose to live (and record) life differently than we do.

There are, however, some potentially clever devices in use here. Like how the zombies so frequently avoid the man holding the camera, as if he weren't actually there. And then there is the mirroring of the opening scene towards the end, which I thought was pretty amusing to see. On the whole, though, the film lacks the "oomph" of Romero's classic Dead trilogy, and as I said, the commentary has a tendency to leave you rolling your eyes. It's certainly worth a look if you're into these kinds of films (zombie films, found footage films, or films that comment on modern society), but if you're looking for a good zombie movie, I would recommend instead Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.

1 comment:

  1. And if you're looking for a good found footage zombie movie, [Rec] is pretty much your only option! If anyone knows of another (GOOD one), by all means enlighten me. I would love to have another.

    I'm certain I'd like Diary of the Dead more if I actually sat down and watched the whole thing -- I entered the movie at about the half-way point I think. But I really felt the same way about the commentary as you did. In Blair Witch when Heather hams it up for the camera in front of the graveyard, it makes sense and it's most forgivable coming from a student film project.

    And the ridiculous commentary is highly believable coming from this group of misfits in Diary of the Dead as well -- except in Diary of the Dead, the voice of the film is given to the group of misfits and their immature little message. I can't help but to feel the message put forward by the kids and Romero's message for the film are one and the same. And if that is indeed the case, it's rather silly of him to allow his point to be made with such juvenile language and articulation, as it does the message no favors.