Zombies Delivered Directly to You
We must be going through a YouTube phase in movies. Shortly after the release of Cloverfield, George A. Romero gives us Diary of the Dead, another film in which young everyday people happen to find themselves with a camera in hand to film the latest unexpected and inexplicable disastrous event. Both movies tip their caps to the internet phenomenon of the public being the new reliable provider of up-to-date entertainment, fads, and news. But to end the comparison there would be doing Romero's movie a disservice -- whereas Cloverfield felt like an entertaining and effective gimmick, Diary of the Dead is more interested in commenting directly on the times we live in.
As a colleague commented to me, when Romero has something on his mind, he'll make his point with zombies. This time he's decided to abandon the polished veneer of his last undead-fest, Land of the Dead, and go back to his indie-budget roots. Diary uses relatively unknown actors to play college filmmaking students who try to rush home once the news hits that the dead have begun to rise. However, the aspiring director, Jason (Joshua Close), decides it's his duty to film-document what's happening around him, almost to the point of disregarding safety and his friends' feelings.
Does the film condemn or support Jason? At first it may seem that it takes the former stance, as he is chastised by his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) for sticking to his agenda of being hard-nosed, especially when it seems this approach has increased the distress of one colleague who later attempts to commit suicide. But Debra comes to realize that Jason's footage is far more truthful than the spun information being put out by TV news. After editing Jason's movie, she actually narrates the film, provided here to jolt the public into understanding what's really going on.
Romero laments the path current journalism has taken, tainted by corporate interests and always packaged to soften blows. His character of Jason is not very sympathetic, but Romero may be arguing that sympathy does not play a part in accurate reporting. Also, he pins his hopes of honest reporting on today's youth, who use the internet to deliver unfiltered information quickly and directly to the audience who needs it.
This plainly idealistic view is presented in a rather broad, pronounced way. In the movie, whenever a point needs to be made about truthful journalism, Debra's voiceover handily comes in. Some scenes have a problem of being too obvious and wishful, as when Jason uploads his content and claims it has instantly received a humongous number of hits. We get the idea, but scenes like this give the tone of a product demonstration.
Diary of the Dead is also hampered by weaknesses here and there in acting and writing (e.g., there's a professor character played by Scott Wentworth who seems to have the goofiest faux-Shakespearean lines for every situation), but that's also part of its low-budget charms. The zombies, ambling about (and Romero does make a jab at the idea of fleetfooted zombies), seem more at home in this kind of atmosphere. The movie's tone does go up and down, and at times it revels a bit too much in its clever gore set-ups to really be driving home its point about delivering news that could and should actually scare us.
Still, the film leaves us with a pervasive sense of dread, something I didn't feel from his last two Dead movies (and even Dawn of the Dead ended with a joke). The urgency of the perspective plus the general sense of hopelessness for humanity add up to a sense of despair as well as to the idea that lives are lived mainly so that information can be passed on to future lives. Perhaps there really is something to be said for this first-person camera approach to our troubled times.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "R" for strong horror violence asnd gore, and pervasive language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.