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.