I remember being so excited when I heard that Romero was working on the latest chapter in his ‘dead’ series & that it was going to be a much less glitzy affair in comparison to Land of the Dead.
At the time of Diary of the Dead’s release I was in a better place regarding my feelings on the found-footage/hand-held camera style of filming. I was actually kind of excited to see how Romero combined his trademark social commentary with POV camera work.
It’s important to watch Diary of the Dead knowing that while it takes place within the same universe as his other movies it is effectively a re-telling of the story. Knowing this makes a hell of a difference.
The movie opens with footage of a cameraman & a reporter covering a story of a man who killed his wife & son before committing suicide. As the bodies are wheeled out on gurneys they reanimate as zombies & attack the medics & police officers. The footage ends with the reporter being attacked & narrator explaining that most of the footage was never uploaded even though it had been recorded.
She then goes on to explain that the movie we are watching has been edited & put together by her to get the truth out there, to scare you into reacting & not believing what the mainstream media are telling you. It’s a handy explanation as to why the movie is pieced so well together from recorded footage.
A group of film studies students are in the woods of making a horror movie as part of their course alongside their teacher. Filming isn’t going so well & the group bicker as project leader, Jason is a bit demanding. The shoot is interrupted by reports of wide-spread violence & murder on the radio. The group split with Ridley & Francine leaving to go to Ridley’s rich parent’s house. Jason & the rest go his girlfriend, Debra (the narrator) who can’t get hold of her family.
The group decide to go to Debra’s family with Jason filming all the while…his obsession with capturing everything causes relationships to strain. Along the way the group begins to see just how damaging the outbreak is becoming & how far the mainstream media will go to hide it. The group become reliant on the internet & the truth through blogging & freelance sites.
Just what is the truth…and how far will Jason & his group go to reveal it?
The focal point of the movie is just how reliant we are on the media to tell us just exactly what is going on. Later in the movie we see the video of the man & his family attacking the medics & officers again but edited with mainstream spin to imply it was an isolated incident. It’s really well done & has truth to it.
As the world deteriorates unseen it is fun to see just how our small group of survivors go about understanding it. Although this does brings its own problem…you see for long periods of the movie not a lot happens & the group aren’t really that interesting to hold up long sections of doing nothing.
As is often the case in found-footage/hand-held camera movies the motivation for filming is often stupid. You know…like Cloverfield but Diary of the Dead gives us a plausible explanation with lead, Jason becoming obsessed with capturing the perfect movie. So much so that he distances himself from the group & his girlfriend.
The movie pretty much shambles from one exciting moment to another. When the group arrive at the hospital we get some exciting zombie action…the same can be said for when the group arrive at Debra’s family home. These moments are well placed & often come at just the right time when your attention was beginning to fade. You’ll find that happening a lot during the road-trip moments as the group go over the same things.
The acting ranges from good to so-so…the drunken college professor being one of the more clichéd. A couple are more memorable than others but that’s mainly thanks to their screen time.
Diary of the Dead doesn’t go over the top with its zombies, this is the start of the outbreak so there wouldn’t be thousands roaming the countryside. We tend to see lone figures staggering around (more reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead) but they still give off that air of threat. When we do get some up close shots the make-up on the zombies is brilliant with a wide range of nasty cuts & wounds.
There are some great scenes involving the zombies with my standout being the swimming pool grave scene. That actually managed to creep me out a bit…
It’s not Romero’s best work but as an addition to his legendary trilogy it works really well. The running theme of our reliance on the media is interesting & it’s clever to see just how easily we can be betrayed & manipulated. Interactions with zombies are sparse but exciting when it comes. Some average acting & lengthy road-trip, not much happening, talking bits over-stay their welcome & the ending could have been cut down a bit.
Diary Of The Dead