Forty years ago, director George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead redefined the modern horror film and created a zombie sub-genre that has proven very resilient these last four decades. Hundreds of films have followed in the shambling footsteps of Romero’s living dead, trying to recapture the magic of Night and its seminal 1979 sequel, Dawn of the Dead . And while there have been some great entries in the genre, nearly all have fallen short in one way or another, including Romero’s most recent contribution to the zombie oeuvre, Diary of the Dead .
Going back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse Romero started in 1968, Diary of the Dead takes place at the onset of the dead coming back to life—only this night of the living dead takes place right here, right now. A group of film students making a cheap horror film in the woods of Pennsylvania hear the first broadcasts of something too incredible to believe—the dead are coming back to life. Idealistic filmmaker Jason (Joshua Close) feels it is his responsibility to record everything he sees and then upload it to the Internet, so all the world can see the truth the media hides.
Diary of the Dead is shot as if it were an actual documentary: filmed on digital video, edited on a laptop and uploaded onto My
Space. But coming on the heels of Cloverfield , a similar but far more ambitious film, Diary doesn’t have the impact that it should—especially given the fact that it’s a Romero zombie film—and ultimately does little to add to the genre. Romero’s script reads like it was written in a hurry, providing only a handful of memorable moments and relatively few likable characters, with most of the cast coming across like a generic ensemble of rejects from a Final Destination movie.
The one thing that has always set Romero’s work apart is that his zombie films are social statements. And while he has never been one to be subtle in what he’s saying, he has certainly never been so obvious as he is with Diary of the Dead , driving home his scathing indictment of the media with all the subtlety of Spike Lee. Rather than creating a film that fits nicely into his epic vision of a world that has given way to the flesh-eating living dead, Romero has instead made a movie that feels like an imitation of a Romero movie. R.
SEE IT: Diary of the Dead opens Friday at Lloyd Center.