Film Review: Diary of the Dead (2007)

Written and directed by George A. Romero, and starring Shawn Roberts, Joshua Close, Michelle Morgan, Joe Dinicol, Phillip Riccio, Scott Wentworth, and Tatiana Masiany.

"While filming a horror movie of mummy in a forest, the students and their professor of the University of Pittsburgh hear on the TV the news that the dead are awaking and walking. Ridley and Francine decide to leave the group, while Jason heads to the dormitory of his girlfriend Debra Monahan. She does not succeed in contacting her family and they travel in Mary's van to the house of Debra's parents in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While driving her van, Mary sees a car accident and runs over a highway patrolman and three other zombies trying to escape from them. Later the religious Mary is depressed, questioning whether the victims where really dead, and tries to commit suicide, shooting herself with a pistol. Her friends take her to a hospital where they realize that the dead are indeed awaking and walking and they need to fight to survive while traveling to Debra's parents house."

Diary of the Dead, shot in only twenty-three days, apparently begins on the same day as his original masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. It all may seem a bit confusing to viewers, considering the technology and culture of the two separate times obviously don't blend well together, but you just have to take a leap of faith and suspend any disbelief. Romero relies more on concept than literal reality. In this addition to his long running Dead series we see Romero shift gears for a moment, and though I hate to give it this description, putting a Blair Witch-like tilt to the epic story. Filmed completely on hand-held cameras, Diary of the Dead follows a group of college students, and one professor, on their almost futile trek across a chaotic America.
This style of camera work is no stranger to horror, thus The Blair Witch Project is not the only film to come before or after Diary of the Dead: Cloverfield, [REC], Quarantine, The Zombie Diaries, and the upcoming [REC]2 to name a few. One advantage above the other new horror classics in Romero's documentary-style filming, there's a lack of shaky-cam syndrome that leaves you with nausea upon the film's finish. For the most part, the camcorder is steady and never leaves you with an uneasy stomach. I really, truly love the concept Romero puts forth here, but despite his best interests, the "subtle dialog" felt a bit strained this time, and I couldn't help but feel that some of his ideas got muddled up and lost in the mix. Still, I was engaged and immersed from beginning to end. Unfortunately, just as with his last effort, Land of the Dead, the dialog is completely cringe-worthy at worst, and mundane at its best.

Diary, like his previous works, contains many notable elements worth mentioning. It's laced with more social and political commentary than his earlier works, and holds more than a few aids from well-known horror universals to whet any zombie fan's appetite. "In the scene with the zombie doctors, a voice can be heard on the radio inviting people to aim for the head. This is the voice of Tom Savini, a longtime friend of George A. Romero. In fact, this audio is lifted directly from the bonus features of the remake of Dawn of the Dead." Many other horror legends also have small cameos doing voice-work as newsreaders, including: Simon Pegg, Stephen King, Wes Craven, Quentin Tarantino, and Guillermo del Toro.

The biggest complaint I have about Diary of the Dead is the lack of strength in the actors. As with Land of the Dead, the dialog, which I've already mentioned, and the actors' abilities to convey their characters simply leaves one wanting more substance. I feel that Romero has lost his touch to write believable people living in a world rampant with the undead. The characters are clich├ęd, and, despite all attempts to prove otherwise, completely boring and devoid of personality. The group of college students are two-dimensional, and the professor is more than likely the worst of the bunch. Because of this major fault I couldn't feel for the characters, and even more, connect with them on any personal level. The danger they found themselves in only provided me with a standard, from-afar view that didn't bring any emotion to the forefront, or make me hope that they escape their ultimately likely demises. I will say, though, that I felt Michelle Morgan, playing the lead, faired far better than her colleagues. I've read a few reviews in the past stating that they felt she was terrible, but I don't know what the hell they were talking about.

With that said, I still feel that George Romero is deserving of his rank at the top of zombie horror, and it looks like he's not slowing down anytime soon. His last two have marked a first for his series: Diary following Land by only few years, compared to his over decade-long waiting time in between his previous efforts. He's also now working on his next installment as I'm writing this, so it won't be long before we see what is more than likely another change of pace in an already five-standing movie series. I love the old man, and look forward to anything he plans on doing, hoping only for the best. That's it for Romero's Dead series, for now. Check back soon (well, eventually) for reviews of all the spin-offs (Return of the Living Dead), remakes (Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead), and shitty attempts at sequels (Day of the Dead 2: Contagium).

Best quote: "Listen to me, unless you're Jesus fucking Christ, you don't stand up and walk around after you're dead!"

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