Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Movie! ‘Diary of the Dead’

As far as I’m concerned if there’s anything better than a ‘zombie film’ then it’s a ‘George Romero zombie film’. It’s fairly safe to say that if it wasn’t for this guy then zombie films would not be around in the shape that they are….
Having said that though, George’s foray back into the genre with ‘Land of the Dead’ didn’t do as well as expected. The blame was placed on poor distribution of the film but it could just as easily be blamed on a film that asked its viewers to suspend disbelief just that little bit too much (don’t get me started)…

Romero is still full of ideas though and one of these was to take the franchise right back to the beginning and tell the story through the eyes of a bunch of film students on location. They’re making a horror film, for their college course, but the director sees a chance to do some good with their film-making equipment when the dead start turning up to eat the living. Jason, our director, wants to film a documentary (for uploading to YouTube) that viewers can take survival tips from, he’s also got one eye on the exposure this will get his work. Everyone else just wants to get home and what we get is Jason’s footage of this journey spliced with further footage of events around the world.

I’m a big fan of George Romero’s zombie films and I really wanted to enjoy this one after the disappointing ‘Land of the Dead’. I did enjoy it but only up to a point…

The biggest issue I had was that of the characters making up our intrepid band of film students. It’s very telling that I watched the film last night and I can only remember one of their names (Jason the director)… They seem to be there only to make up numbers and fill in stereo-typical roles (drunken tutor, the nerd, the hero, blonde woman who screams lots, you get the picture…) and it just felt like perhaps a little more could have been done with them. I know things were pretty traumatic but I’m sure that people do more than just stand there and scream lots…
Funnily enough, the character whose name that I can remember is the one that annoys me the most. Despite everything that is going on, Jason will not let go of his damn camera! I know that he’s meant to be filming all of this (and it would be frustrating for us if he had to keep putting the camera down) but there were times when shooting the film took precedence over his friends and even over his own personal safety. I couldn’t work out whether Romero was trapped by the constraints of how he’d decided to shoot the film or if Jason was just really bloody annoying… Either way, it took some of the enjoyment out of things.

George Romero usually has a point to make in his zombie films, whether it’s a comment about consumerism (‘Dawn of the Dead’) or the class divide and capitalism (‘Land of the Dead’). The nature of ‘Diary’ suggests that he had his eye on the YouTube generation but I wasn’t quite sure what the point was that he was trying to make (not surprising considering the standard of acting in some instances). Is it that we rely too much on technology these days? Is he saying that even the apocalypse won’t stop us from getting our fill of internet fads? Hopefully this will be answered the next time that I watch the DVD…

This all sounds like I hated the film and will be taking the DVD back to the shop with a flimsy excuse about how it didn’t work in the player, not the case at all. There is still plenty in this film for a Romero fan including yet more inventive ways of killing a zombie through gratuitous inflicting of trauma to the head. My favourites for this film included use of hydrochloric acid and those electric resuscitator things you get in hospitals!
Romero also does his usual great job of racking up the tension and making me yell things like, “stay away from the door!” and “put the damn camera down, the zombie is trying to eat you!” There were even a couple of minutes where I had to pause the DVD and pretend that I had forgotten to do something that really needed doing (I know but I was on my own so I only really had to fool myself!)
What I really love about Romero’s zombie films though is the way that he depicts the world’s slow and inexorable slide into chaos as civilization breaks down. Law and order is shown to be useless in the face of mankind’s baser instincts but there is still always hope when you see that everyday people will do the most heroic things.

I thought that ‘Diary of the Dead’ was a marked improvement on its predecessor but it has a long way to go before it can match up to the first three films. I’m looking forward to seeing what George Romero comes up with next.

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