Just two years after Land of the Dead (2005), zombie movie mastero George A. Romero is back in the director’s chair with another horror film laden with social commentary. He has averaged a zombie film a decade until now, but the proliferation of Internet blogging and the miss-truths of the mass media have galvanised him into making two in the space of two years. Using this entry as more of a series reboot as is the in thing these days in Hollywood, Romero has also pitched us in the heart of the flesh-eating action as we witness events through various video cameras as a group of film students attempt to document all they see. Coming so soon after Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008), there are obvious comparisons to be made, even with his unique vision of the undead walking on Earth being very different from the Godzilla-inspired adrenaline rush JJ Abrams produced. Yet it is within the genre he is supposed to be so adept in that Romero manages to falter badly and let his admirers down.
Set in present day and depicting an initial outbreak of the dead waking with as zombies, Diary of the Dead opens with footage recorded by a news reporter showing the first signs of trouble as ambulance staff are attacked by what they thought were corpses. It’s an effective start to the movie, but it is then interrupted by a voiceover from a student filmmaker as she tells of her intention of showing the a true documentation of events since the zombies first started appearing. What follows is her editing together of what two cameras and various security cameras captured over a couple of days as they fought for survival. Throughout there are constant references by these filmmakers about how they need to tell the world about what is really happening over the Internet compared to the cover-ups and lies the media is telling, such as everything is under control and there is just some form of epidemic. The reality is part of the world are in chaos as people fight for survival and vigilantes are assuming control.
Beyond the expected grizzly zombie sequences and suspense of not knowing where they may next come from, it unavoidably echoes Cloverfield.
Romero has looked for a new way to use the undead to comment on society for each of his movies, ranging from criticism of consumerism to the Bush administration, but with Diary of the Dead there is a distinct feel he’s not done enough work on the script to get any valid points properly heard. Beyond the expected grizzly zombie sequences and suspense of not knowing where they may next come from, it unavoidably echoes Cloverfield due to the respective release dates in the UK. The comment on blogging and media propaganda is interesting, however whether he can justifiably say one man’s truth will cure the world of all mistruth is another matter when zombies are taking over. This is made worse by a patronising voiceover force-feeding the film’s message and interrupting the energy generated by the raw exposure to the video which made Cloverfield such an adrenaline rush.
The usual zombie plot points turn up such as the slow realisation people who are bitten will eventually turn into the living dead themselves, and, of course, the non-believers emotionally connected to any of these unfortunately people refuse to accept it until they really do before their eyes. You would have expected Romero, angered by the result of the Dawn of the Dead remake (Zack Snyder, 2004), would have thought longer and harder about how to keep the action interesting in his fifth zombie movie. Most of the time it’s like watching someone play a first person shooter videogame, especially in one scene in a hospital when zombies stumble towards our victims and must be taken out all from the perspective of dedicated cameraman who seems impervious to their sight. You get to see zombies kill and be killed in timely fashion, but Romero should probably have waited another ten years when he had a topical subject which lent itself to this genre of film in a more suitable way. As it stands Diary of the Dead falls short on entertainment and satire which can only be a failure given Romero’s previously positive track record.