Review: DIARY OF THE DEAD

Posted by Peter Hall - May 19th 2008 @ 7:48 pm

Written and Directed by George A. Romero, 2007

I cringe thinking it. I cringe. And yet the thought is no longer figurative, but empirical. A chain of words that have lost their requirement for a question mark at the end: George A. Romero is no longer relevant.

Cringe. I don’t think it is particularly good, but DIARY OF THE DEAD isn’t that bad and yet that statement…

Over the years Romero got tagged as the man, the director to go to for social commentary dressed in zombie makeup. And when LAND OF THE DEAD failed to connect in the way his original trilogy did, most shrugged their shoulders and chalked it up to a stumble. Only time, aka his next film, would prove whether that was a misstep or a pattern. I cringe to say Romero can no longer walk the walk he patented. DIARY OF THE DEAD is the atrophied shuffling of a once relevant vanguard.

DIARY is, as everyone knows at this point, a zombie survival story told from the POV of a guy who refuses to put his camera down during the initial outbreak. As far as presentation goes, what we are seeing is supposed to be a documentary cut together by the girlfriend of our silly noble camera man. She, like any college level wannabe auteur would, has edited the raw footage together with musical cues and voice over. And, like any college level wannabe auteur, her film’s agenda (“Look how media dependent we are!”) is even more obvious than Hack Haggis’ racism skyscraper-cum-eyesore CRASH. And since, of course, her film is really Romero’s film…well, a flow chart is not necessary.

Unless GAR meant to blow the lid off of sophomoric undergrad films at a state college, he failed. He sure as shit isn’t blowing the lid off of our media hungry society. Not that I even need Romero to blow the lid off of anything, but what with all the leaden huffing and puffing, banging and clubbing and running us under a hot tap that he does, you better believe Romero is convinced he is de-lidding something.

He is not.

But before this turns into a hate fest, qualifier time! I want you to rent DIARY OF THE DEAD. I want you to see it. It is not the open casket viewing some of the flick’s backlash would have you believe. Think of it as a snapshot in a collage next to the casket. (Those two sentences are supposed to be complimentary.)

Fortunately, the Romero gore is there. CGI has let him do some fun things. Are they important things? Necessary things? No, just gags. Nothing wrong with gags, though. Gags are categorical of the zombie genre and GAR specifically. Kill gags and character zombies, they were entertaining 30 years ago and they are still entertaining. If you only tolerate the most immaculate of CGI, be warned there are a few glaring drawbacks, but that is what happens under budget.

Performances are average with little standout. The only notable exception is the uncredited actor who plays Samuel, the Amish badass who deserves a film all his own. I tend to not pick on actors, but I can’t refrain from mentioning Michelle Morgan as Debra, the girlfriend/editor. This is not so much an accusation as it is an observation, but man alive is she channeling Eliza Dushku as Faith something fierce. I don’t know if Romero is a “Buffy” fan or what, but the similarity is startling.

I’m sorry that this review is muddled. I could be a special asshole and say that I’m bouncing all over the place because Romero did, but that would be a pretentious fib. There just isn’t a whole lot to say about DIARY OF THE DEAD, which is quaint since Ro’ is trying so hard to say something. For that reason alone, I think the movie is a failure. The film’s only saving grace is that it is entertaining in a brainless way despite being ineffective in the ways it tries to feign thought. DIARY is an excellent movie to watch with a group who don’t know George A. Romero from a hole in the ground. Just know you’ll not be challenged, not invested. I wasn’t held rapt, which is what George A. Romero does did best.


rss 5 comments
  1. May 20th, 2008 | 9:08 am | #1

    Since I’m seeing this movie myself one way or another, I don’t know what to take from this review. You didn’t seem to care for LAND, but what does that say for DAY? (Everyone loves NIGHT and DAWN, as well they should.)

    I’ve found something to love in all four previous films, hopefully I’ll find it here as well. Although, I have to admit, the line comparing this film to CRASH in any way, shape or form made ME cringe.

  2. May 20th, 2008 | 9:34 am | #2

    I like DAY. The effects work were a huge landmark for the industry and as a story of man being its own worst enemy, I think it holds up just fine. For the record, DAWN is my favorite. It just has that spark in every shot.

    I’m sorry for the shitty review of DIARY. I really am. There are times I finish writing something and hate it because it doesn’t say anything (yet I publish anyway). I hate non-committal in my own writing, but DIARY really was a pretty ambiguous picture for me. It failed at what it was trying to capture because it tried soooo loud to do it (like CRASH), but in between my groans were chuckles and thrills.

    If I had to rank it, I’d say it is better than LAND. LAND was a real a dud, I think. Glossy but…common. Even still, Romero has never made an F grade picture, in my book.

  3. R.J. Sayer
    May 20th, 2008 | 9:56 am | #3

    It’s not a shitty review, Peter.

    but i must say, you’re being too kind to the ol’ codger. state college? more like community college. not even film class. video production. and this ain’t even the best project in the class.

    my key disagreement, is i just did not find anything – apart from Samuel, who is criminally underused – about this bullshit to be entertaining. everything that i normally would’ve taken as brainless fun was still stained by the film’s juvenile self-righteousness, and in turn, annoyed the ever-loving shit out of me.

    spot on with the CRASH comparison. except for one thing: at least some of the performances in CRASH were good. whereas DIARY had some of the worst performances i’ve ever seen, and – again, apart from Samuel – not a saving grace among the lot. that is not hyperbole. that is the truth as i see it. especially that fuckin’ professor character. jesus christ. i mean, the guy really wasn’t given much other than a high-school-level satire stereotype from the script… i get that… but fuck, dude.

    i too thought LAND was a dud (Land of the Dead? more like BLAND of the Dead! har! har! guffaw!). but i think DIARY makes LAND look like the fucking Renaissance.

    oh, and it’s always nice to see some love for DAY. that just might be one of the most unjustly derided film in history. Ever. okay… so that IS hyperbole. but seriously, that movie is amazing and fuck the haters. in the face. with Bub’s zombie cock.

  4. May 20th, 2008 | 10:17 am | #4

    Peter, now you know why my review section is collecting dust. If I had a nickel for every half-finsihed review I’ve tossed because I couldn’t fully get behind writing it, I’d have… um… Enough saved up to buy the DVD of DIARY and therefore not feel guilty if it turns out as bad as R.J. says.

    Also, DAY rocks. I keep meaning to watch it again, but can never find the time. (Damn you, GTA!)

  5. PT
    May 22nd, 2008 | 2:48 pm | #5

    Yah, good review. I think i liked it a lot more but Romero definitely was trying too hard to make a commentary on nothing. That Crash comparison= nail + head.

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