Dir. George A. Romero, US, 2008, 95mins
Cast: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde
Review by Matthew Rodgers
The zombie genre has evolved since the master George A. Romero, called it a “Day” over 20 years ago only to return with 2005’s Land of the Dead – little more than an average accompanying piece to his groundbreaking original trilogy - Danny Boyle has in the meantime created the athletic zombie of 28 Days Later and Zac Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead with surprisingly effective results in 2004. The question is; has his landmark influence backfired on his ability to re-shape the genre one more time for the YOUTUBE generation?
As with Romero’s other offerings the plot features a completely new thread, no continuation or crossover characters, this is a global epidemic so there are plenty of stories to tell. The difference here is that Romero films Diary as a first person account of events, a la Cloverfield and Blair Witch but without the nuanced subtlety both of those films succeeded with.
A no-face group of students are making a “stupid fucking mummy movie with an underlying theme of satire” in the middle of the woods when the zombie contagion begins to bring the dead back to life. The fact that Romero uses such sledgehammer post-modernisms as that indicates that he really has lost touch with the genre, because they became ineffective about half way through Scream 2. The ramshackle group of nauseatingly annoying kids then spends the remainder of the movie fleeing from place to place, all the while filming it for our “enjoyment”. The trick simply doesn’t work here.
What made the Dead trilogy so iconic as a series of films were the social commentaries for the climate in which they were made. Night of the Living Dead, released in 1968 in an era when the Vietnam War was very prevalent, showed that good does not necessarily triumph over evil and those that we care for die, things that the people of America were learning on a daily basis. Dawn in 1979 was less subtle in its attack on consumerism, but still as effective as multi-cultural zombies returned to the place they loved in life, the mall. Land's resonating themes were the critique of the class structure, with the lowest denominator, the zombies, rising up against the cooperation and secondly an examination of our post 9/11 society. So where does this leave Diary in the Series?
Languishing, that’s where. It is a re-cycled selection of greatest hits; an attack on the war on terror through the eye of the media “if it didn’t happen on camera, then it didn’t happen”, a zombie pushing a shopping trolley is a nod to Dead’s consumerist themes, and immigration is briefly touched on with a response to the initial outbreak being greeted with “[they] probably crawled over the god damn border”. It’s all extremely lazy and has nothing original to say, it is also wrapped up in a ridiculous plot that the Scooby Doo writers would have discarded, and narrated with an intrusive voiceover that sounds auto-cued by one of the unknown and untalented actors.
The only aspects that make Diary rise from the straight-to-video grave are some inventive zombie demises – defibrillator death and a hydrochloric acid brainmelt are particular highlights, for want of a better word – and a brief running time meaning that you don’t need to endure that much of this disappointing 'Diary'.