Diary of the Dead (2007)
George Romero's latest offering in his zombie cycle (the fifth, to date) was a letdown. It definitely had a "message", but spent so much time bludgeoning the viewer over the head with it that it became really tedious viewing. The characters are, for the most part, unlikeable and interchangeable - insert any fresh teen face here and get the same result. Whereas Romero's past zombie flicks (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, hell, even Land of the Dead - which certainly had it's detractors, but really grew on me) have parlayed their socially aware messages in a more subtle fashion, Diary refuses to deal in subtlety. But then, it is a zombie movie.....
Romero's films, though, are not so easily pinned down - what sets them apart from the piles of Italian zombie films from the same era is that George doesn't merely deal in gore opuses, meant to showcase the latest in special effects; rather, his films are thoughtful, if urgent, reminders to a society in a state of tumult and flux. Diary also carries an important message about the iPod generation's inability to communicate without a computer screen in front of them. However, in the past Romero allowed the audience to reach this conclusion on their own - here he stuffs it down our throats with some seriously godawful dialogue.
Diary isn't a bad movie, I just call it a letdown because I hold Romero, one of my favourite directors, to such high standards. There are some excellent scenes of tension, and Romero is a master at turning regular, mundane locales into breeding grounds of fear. Also, the film has the misfortune of following hot on the heels of that "other" first-person shot horror flick, Cloverfield. The handheld camera work and the variety of devices used to convey the onscreen image (handi-cam, cell-phone cam, computer/video uplinks, etc) in Diary is interesting, but it's been done - Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, the aforementioned Cloverfield....I certainly don't think George has run out of ideas, or is simply copying - he's much too intelligent a director for that - but his movie certainly does suffer from bad timing. I certainly get what he's trying to do here, and the movie was fun, but the end result left me wanting.
I hope Romero (who just turned 68 on Feb. 4) lets the zombie hordes rest for awhile, and makes his next flick in the vein of Martin, or even The Crazies. The film has been garnering mostly positive reviews, though, so go decide for yourself whether or not I'm full of shit. After all, Diary of the Dead is still better than 99% of the new (or is that nu?) horror coming out these days... If for nothing else, go see Diary to toss a few bucks George's way; he's deserved it.
Playing in Toronto at the Paramount (or the "Scotiabank" theatre, if that's how you wanna roll).