Well, George finally did it. He killed the zombie movie. Where do I want to be when the end begins? As fucking far away from the fucking pricks that occupy this picture as possible. The "living dead" genre has always been one of my favorites. Starting with Romero's own masterpiece Night of the Living Dead and continuing through his underrated Land of the Dead. I love the original Dawn of the Dead as well as the remake. I've got a major hard on for Fulci's unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead called Zombi 2, a film that features the first ever zombie versus shark battle. Perhaps the genre should have died with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's lovingly hilarious send up Shaun of the Dead.
Romero can't help but instill a little social commentary into his "dead" films. In his latest, Diary of the Dead, he takes on the government controlled media as seen through the eyes of the myspace generation. Let it be known that this is NOT a sequel to his original series. This is a reboot of the franchise to present day. The premise is simple. Several college friends are in the Pennsylvanian woods filming a mummy movie when the zombie outbreak begins. The director, Jason Creed (played by Joshua Close) decides to keep filming. He and his crew travel through Pennsylvania with separate agendas. Creed want's to document the events for his new film "the death of death" also known as "the death of dead movies". His crew, including Jason's soon to be ex-girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) just want to get home to their families. It's a clever premise to be sure. Unfortunately, the recent Cloverfield used a similar gimmick to a much more horrifying effect. Sure, the idea for Diary was conceived well before Cloverfield. For that, I suppose we can give Romero some credit. Unfortunately, and it truly pains me to say this, the execution of this thing is abysmal.
Before I get into what doesn't work, I'll mention the things I liked about the picture. The deaf scythe wielding Amish guy. After hurling some dynamite at a few lumbering dead, he provides the film's best moment when, without missing a beat, he etches on a hand held chalkboard: "hello, my name is Samuel." Romero also takes a dig at the recent trend toward fast zombies by having the director chide his mummy actor for running after a victim telling him that "corpses don't run because if they did their ankles would break. dumbass." Ok, that's what I liked.
What didn't I like? First of all, the narration by Debra NEEDS to go. I cringed everytime it appeared, not because it was terrible (although it often was), but because it was completely uneccesary. She actually tells us that she went back and added "music to scare you". George should know better. Normally, voice overs tend to ruin poignant or tense moments. Thankfully, this picture didn't have any of those. I don't want to disparage the actors too much because I'm not sure if they were awful or if it was just the characters as written. Jason Creed was a douchebag. After running over a few zombies on a country road, Mary (the winnebago driver) is asked by Jason "how did that make you feel?" I'm guessing not so good since she was blowing out her own brains in the very next scene. Creed is the Uwe Boll of documentary filmmaking. He's an ego-driven maniac that would sacrifice his actors, his friends, his GIRLFRIEND for the perfect shot. Contrast him with the cameraman from Cloverfield, Hud. Hud was a good guy. Personable, funny, and terrified of the events surrounding him. His humor was more of a fear mechanism, so it didn't really feel too contrived. He kept the camera rolling, but he didn't keep it glued to his eyes at all times. When he ran, the camera would drop to his side. If a friend was in peril he would do everything in his power to save them, even if it meant leaving the camera behind (thankfully, it never came to that). Like I said, Jason of Diary is just a douche. The camera never leaves his eye. In an abandoned, zombie infested hospital, he let's his friends go on without him because he needs to stay behind to charge his camera. Whereas Hud was immersed within the action of the film, Jason attempts to distance himself. He tries to direct events that are beyond his, or anyone's, control. It was an appallingly poor decision by Romero to center the film around this asshole.
The rest of the cast didn't fare much better. The actors were all playing a type rather than an actual character. These included the drunken professor, the ditzy blonde, the jesus freak, the deaf amish guy, and the rich prick. It's hard to suspend your disbelief and be taken in by a movie like this when not one of the characters hits a believable note at any point during the film. Hell, even the cameos were wasted. Apparently, Romero got Stephen King and Simon Pegg to read some newscasts, but I didn't notice (and I knew about it going in). The best cameo of the picture was a one minute scene with the guy from the Dawn of the Dead remake that had his legs broken and was dragged through the sewars as he shot back at the pursuing zombies. In Diary he had a couple of unmemorable lines while sitting on the back of a truck. Good stuff.
This should never have received a theatrical release. It's barely good enough to qualify as a sci-fi original (I would, however, hesitate before labeling this piece of shit "the most dangerous night of TV"). There were a few good kills (bottle of acid to the head, scythe through two heads at once, shotgun blast to the head of a zombie woman hanging by her hair), but they were all marred by miserable CGI. Romero needs to hook up with Tom Savini again, because if this is where we're heading with our zombie effects than all I can say is No-Fucking-Thanks.
The biggest offense of Romero's latest is that it bored me. I checked the time twice during this thing. I was constantly shifting in my seat. If you ever see me watching a movie with my hand on the side of my head, that's a sure sign that the movie sucks. It's my tell. The people behind me were obnoxiously loud and, you know what? I didn't even mind. I strained to hear what they were saying because it was far more interesting than what was on the screen.
I guess this is Romero's return to guerrilla filmmaking. He shot it with minimal budget, no cast, and a really shitty script. I wanted to say "no script", but I think it would have been better without one. Maybe the characters would have seemed human, the interactions real if they had been allowed to ad lib just a little. Word on the street is that Romero's already working on a sequel to this one called Diary of the Dead 2: You Guys Will See Anything As Long As My Name Is Attached To It, Won't You? Stupid Shits. Ha Ha Ha Ha. Cha Ching Cha Ching!
Of course I'm kidding about the last line. I don't for a second believe that Romero is motivated by money. I think, in the wake of Katrina and Iraq, the intent here was to rip the government's response to disasters, whether natural or man-made. He wanted to tear into the selective reporting of various media outlets. Unfortunately for Romero, for a film's message to resonate, the film, itself, has to be something you can tolerate sitting through. I barely made it through Diary of the Dead.
I dearly love George Romero pictures, which is why it pains me to say I loathed this one. He's the man behind several of my favorite films; Creepshow, the Dead quadrilogy, and the Crazies. I even love Monkey Shines. I just think he needs to step away from the zombies for a while. As soon as I'm finished sitting through the soon to be released, direct to video, remake of Day of the Dead I'm going to take an extended hiatus from the genre. It saddens me that Romero may have ruined it for me. I always assumed I'd be blaming Michael Bay for that.