Typewriters are a thing of the past. At one time, they were innovative, technologically advanced and even revolutionary. Then, faster, more efficient machines - computers - came along and the typewriter was never able to keep up. The industry is now all but obsolete. George A. Romero is much like a typewriter. He transformed the zombie genre and is in fact considered the father of zombie movies. Night of the Living Dead is a classic, as is the original Dawn of the Dead. No one could do it better than Romero. That is, until they could.
The signs have been there for years, but many die-hards want to give Romero the benefit of the doubt, the veteran's shrug, the everlasting nod of approval. Land of the Dead was the first indicator that Romero's zombies were no longer satisfying, though that film wasn't a complete disaster. Still, after movies such as the new Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and even the comedy Shaun of the Dead have elevated the zombie genre to a truly qualitative level, the standards are higher for excitement, production design and horror.
With Romero's latest project, it is clear that he is experimenting, trying to find something fresh in a genre that has long slipped out of his grasp. In the age of YouTube and homemade movies, Romero decided to "embrace the movement" by making a zombie film as if it were filmed by people in the actual situation. Too bad he completely fucks it up, and as any loyal reader should know, I rarely use swear words in my reviews.
Diary of the Dead is a complete cluster by any stretch of the imagination. Terrible acting, absolutely dreadful writing, a lethargic plot and a boring presentation come together in perfect synergy, to create the perfectly awful film. The only redeeming quality is that the movie does contain a few zombies here and there, and as such a few gory moments, but even those are few and far between. Diary of the Dead is embarrassingly bad, one of those movies that you'd walk out on in theaters - if it ever came to theaters - even if it were the premiere, you were sitting next to Mr. Romero himself and you were married to him. I hate to bash the father of zombie movies, but what he was thinking with this mess I will never know.
The movie begins with a few young people making a horror movie in the woods. As one would expect, their horror film soon turns into a documentary as a zombie virus spreads through the land, turning their friends and families into flesh-eating monsters. They drive around a lot, get robbed by military men, get accosted by zombies and so on and so forth, all the while filming their adventures. If there is any social commentary to be had like Romero has inserted into his previous films, it is completely washed away by his trite gimmick. There are plenty of scenes where the boyfriend stubbornly refuses to put down the camera, even when his girlfriend is being attacked by zombies, and plenty more where the two bicker over his addiction to filming the end of the world.
This same concept was done recently in Cloverfield, which received a love-it-or-hate-it reception. I loved it and found it to be an exciting film. Yes, the handheld camera bit was a gimmick, but it worked for the most part and, regardless of how unbelievable it was that someone would carry a camera around through so much carnage, it really didn't matter because it was never a central part of the actual storyline. In Diary of the Dead, Romero's attempts to be edgy fail on multiple levels for multiple reasons. His focus on the boyfriend's addiction to filming everything completely kills the movie. Not only does it slow the film down to a snail's pace, but his constant emphasis on the film's style makes most of the characters utterly annoying and unlikable. It also makes the concept all the more unbelievable. While Cloverfield addresses the issue once or twice, in nearly every scene Romero has his characters get into an argument about the cameras. If he just ignored the gimmick, we would forget about it; since he beats us with it until our brains our pulsing out of our shattered skulls, it is impossible to. Furthermore, the movie hardly looks like it's made by amateurs. As one of the characters tells us in the beginning of the movie - and, through narration, reminds us throughout - she has taken the footage and edited it into a film of her own. Narration in a zombie movie. What the hell, Romero.
Aside from the disastrous gimmick that fails miserably, the rest of the movie is so poorly conceived you have to wonder if anyone else involved had ever made a movie before. The actors are almost intentionally bad and cringe-inducing to listen to. None are particularly likable, but more importantly, they are just terrible. The writing doesn't help. Feeding into the previous paragraph, the constant emphasis on the characters' filming destroys the pacing, and the actors aren't good enough to pull off any heated debates. The script is full of C-grade dialogue, and before you start to say, "Well, a zombie movie doesn't have to have good acting or writing," may I refer you to my list of recent quality zombie movies stated in Paragraph Two.
There are a couple gory scenes that should please fans, especially one where a zombie gets acid to the head and we get to see its skull and brain slowly burn away, but almost any zombie movie offers just as much, if not more. The action is miniscule at best, and I never felt like the characters were in much danger. Whereas Romero captured the creepiness of zombies well in his first two zombie flicks, there is nothing scary about his creatures here.
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead is one of the worst movies I've seen in a long while. I was expecting a mediocre but entertaining zombie film; instead, Diary of the Dead will probably go down as the worst movie of 2008.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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