Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Theatrical Release Date: February 15th, 2008 (wide)
MPAA Rating: R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language.
Directed By: George Romero
Starring: Shawn Roberts, Joshua Close, Scott Wentworth, Joe Dinicol, George Buza
SCORE = 7/10
There are just some flavors you never tire of, and the savory combination of George Romero and the rotting flesh of zombies is one of them. Expanding upon the genre he created, Romero’s latest zombie epic, Diary of the Dead, takes a more personal look at the widespread outbreak of the undead, but fails to capture the viewer’s attention with a dire sense of immediacy.
While out in the backwoods of Pennsylvania filming a horror film, a group of students get wind of a pandemic that is sweeping the nation. While the media is trying to play dumb, panic strikes the public as rumors spread over the internet that the dead have been coming back to life to pray on the flesh of the living. Quickly changing their focus of their mummy movie, the group begins to document their adventures through the Pennsylvania countryside as they encounter the horrors that wait around every dark corner.
More so than flesh eating zombies, there is a far larger antagonist facing Diary of the Dead, and that is the recent release of Paramount’s Cloverfield. Audiences might easily be fooled into thinking Romero’s latest picture is just a quick knock off of last January’s blockbuster hit, but they would be sadly mistaken.
While Diary of the Dead may have been shot with a handheld camera, Romero uses restraint with the style, fixing the nauseating movements that came with Matt Reeves’ monster flick. It would be a very terrible mistake to avoid Diary of the Dead for fear of motion sickness. Both Romero and cinematographer Adam Swica do a nice job of capturing realistic movement, without making your eyes move faster than your brain. However, even with this masterful approach to the “shaky-cam” style, Romero and company encounter a slew of new thematic problems.
Like the master of horror’s other “Dead” films, Diary of the Dead has a sociopolitical undertone, only this time it’s not so subtle. Commenting on not only the growing number of ways to document reality, thanks in part to the compactness of digital photography, but how audiences have become passive viewers of this media, Diary of the Dead makes some excellent and thought provoking points, but ultimately stumbles upon finding answers to its own questions.
If Romero is using his trademark violence and gore to try and urge us to be more active consumers of media, not just taking in all the presented imagery and information in stride, then why is Diary of the Dead shot like a documentary, but edited like a narrative film? With an expository voiceover that gives away one of the pictures’ survivors, newsreel footage used primarily to transition from scene to scene and musical cues utilized to “scare us” into becoming a more engaged audience, the sheer nature of Diary of the Dead asks audiences to sit back and literally enjoy the ride. Losing immediacy by admitting that what we are watching is in fact a film, Romero’s latest effort fails to capitalize on the premise it set out to achieve.
Ultimately Diary of the Dead is about a filmmaker taking a risk. Romero has spent the last forty years working in and out of the zombie genre and he has perfected it. While his latest experiment succeeds technically yet stumbles thematically, Romero continues to crank out some of the best entertainment that zombie films have to offer. Simply put, the gore in Diary of the Dead is awesome. If you’re going into this movie expecting some inventive and fun zombie violence, you’re going to get your money’s worth.
-Joe Russo, MoviePulse