Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2008

Candid Camera

Romero takes on the YouTube generation with 'Diary of the Dead'

Diary of the Dead
The Weinstein Company and Third Rail Releasing
Director: George A. Romero
Screenplay: George A. Romero
Starring: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Philip Riccio, Amy Ciupak Lalonde and Scott Wentworth
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)

Alright, George Romero, you've made your point: You're the king of zombie movies. I know it, you know it, anyone who's ever seen Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead knows it. And you've even proven you can keep up with modern sensibilities, adapting your social commentary to the issues of the day, as you did in 2004's Land of the Dead and this, your newest zombiefest, Diary of the Dead.

Perhaps it's because you've so clearly defined zombie cinema that your recent efforts have seemed old-hat and forgettable. Or maybe we've seen so much frightfully gory, often-funny carnage from you and your imitators that, these days, it just falls flat on screen. Maybe, in paying homage to your work, Shaun of the Dead simply out-Romero'd you. Even if it was just teasing.

And maybe you're just a victim of timing, but that first-person camerawork thing you're trying? Cloverfield did it better. So, for that matter, did The Blair Witch Project.

Either way, I admire Romero's attempt to map his trademark genre onto our current models of social and technological integration. Diary of the Dead, his fifth zombie movie, follows a group of young student filmmakers as the document an oncoming zombie apocalypse. After corpses begin rising from the dead across America, the campus empties out, chaos spills into every own and the students - who, until being interrupted by reality, were busy making a horror film of their own out in the middle of the woods - and their acerbic, perpetually sauced professor take to the road in a Winnebago, headed for safety.

(Road trip!)

Naturally, they will encounter zombies along with the way - as well as the requisite death and destruction, the obligatory militia that springs up to fight back and survive, and the compulsory Figures of Authority (in this case, the military) who just wind up ruining everything.

What Romero wants to explore - aside from reanimated corpses, of course - is modern society's mistrust of media, in its increasing number of incarnations. How "truth" gets manipulated, distorted. The whole of the film is the videotaped points of view of the main characters - they film the violence and death that was swept over everything, they post it on the Internet, they get thousands of hits.

The man with the movie camera himself, Jason (Joshua Close), insists that he's doing something important - documenting an important event in history in all its raw, "honest" detail. And with a little convincing, some of his cohorts start to understand the power of holding a camera in front of history, too.

The social issues are there for the taking: how we, as 21st Century voyeurs, would sooner record a horrific event than do anything to stop it, would rather watch something happen than get involved in it.

However, as was the case with Land of the Dead, the film's light social satire often seems like mere lip service. Far too obvious to have much impact. We can forgive that - and the stockpile of one-dimensional college-aged cliches - and just enjoy the carnage, only that takes a while to pick up steam, too.

Diary is a fairly challenging experiment for Romero - not just the first-person camerawork itself, but the attempt to blend many different forms of photographic voyeurism while consistently putting its characters in or near harm's way . . . without cheating. And after a while, he starts to pull it off - but only after an extremely sluggish start. Only in the second half of the movie (particularly the last 30 minutes) does the technique start to actually work to the film's advantage.

As the film's perspectives start dividing, Romero is able to create a few legitimately great scenes, and his wit is sharper here than it was last time around. Veritably DePalma-esque.

While Diary of the Dead isn't an altogether bad entry into the genre Romero revolutionized, and while it will likely hit the mark for the director's enthusiasts, the fact remains this is miles away from his best work.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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