Directed by Michael Bartlett & Kevin Gates
These days to find a filmmaker or two who want to actually do something new with the zombie sub genre seems increasingly difficult. Perhaps, though, that’s because we’re only casting our gaze across the United States, when we should be looking to our brothers under the Union Jack, the Brits.
Enter Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates (read our interview with them here) who managed to blend some over-used concepts (zombies, Blair-Witch style filmmaking) into something that actually feels (*gasp*) fresh as a newly executed corpse. And I mean that in a good way. Not that The Zombie Diaries is going to be blowing doors off schools of thought or making filmmakers question their place in the genre, but at least it tries to do something we haven’t seen before.
Before I go any further yes, the plot o f Zombie Diaries is similar to George A. Romero’s next outing, Diary of the Dead. Having not seen the latter, however, I don’t really know how similar, I just know that Zombie Diaries was a concept before Romero’s’ film was announced.
All right, so with that out of the way here’s how Zombie Diaries breaks down; told in four parts, the film first lays out the initial outbreak of zombies in London, though we don’t actually see London besieged by the dead; the directors were clever enough to put us in the hands of team of documentary filmmakers who are concocting a story about the disease, before it’s actually know what it is, who have to travel to the remote countryside for a new interview. While they’re there they have car problems, and when they call back to London to let their people know they learn that pretty much the whole city is in lock down.
As the team explores a nearby house for possible shelter, the first zombie makes an appearance and it’s pretty damn creepy I have to admit; the nice thing about making a movie like this is it’s in the hands of someone who’s using a camera the way you or I would, so they can swing around and catch something freaky without having to worry about a musical cue or sudden fancy camera moves to evoke fear; it’s just fucking unsettling to see something there all of a sudden.
This segment lasts only about 20 minutes before we move on from their story, quite abruptly I thought, to a tale set a month into the outbreak. We find a few stragglers out looking for food and provisions and the issues they run into when they try to get out of the car. Though this segment takes a bit to produce any real scares, the tension is palpable as they enter a seemingly abandoned market, having to stay alert the entire time lest a ghoul sneak up on them.
Then we get to the third and longest segment, about a band of survivors holed up in what appears to be some kind of abandoned farm facility; they’re making their way day-to-day, dealing with zombies getting into their camp. Slowly they realize that there’s something in one building in particular that’s drawing the attention of the flesheaters; their discovery as to what it is issues us into the fourth and final story, but I will leave that for the viewers to experience. I’ll give you a hint; it makes the zombies seem like the nice guys.
What works so well about Zombie Diaries is that you never really feel like these people are acting or hamming it up for the camera. Sure not everyone is playing their part to 100% perfection, but for what I’m sure was a loose script and a difficult shoot they do an admirable job.
But really, it’s all about the undead scares. Though it’s not overflowing with buckets of gore, the potential for a zombie to be around every corner, to just jump out at the camera without any notice or obvious musical cue, is always there and will keep you on edge for a good portion of the run time. The social/humanistic commentary that presents itself at the end feels a little out of place, and like I said some of the footage just ends without any gusto (and would it have been difficult to explain why all this random footage was edited together?), but as an overall package it does work pretty well.
Those of you who suffered motion sickness issues from Blair Witch should rest somewhat easy; though there are moments of outright panic, the camera’s not nearly as erratic or shaky as in the indie favorite.
Though it does suffer from some first time issues, the pacing is off here and there and some characters vanish too easily, Zombie Diaries is still fresh and original enough to entice most horror fans to give it a chance, I think. The inevitable question of how it will stack up against Romero’s similarly-themed Diary of the Dead is up in the air for now … but it sure could be in worse company!
3 1/2 out of 5
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