Directed by George A. Romero
“The dead aren’t supposed to move fast!” yells the director of an amateur horror film in the opening minutes of Diary of the Dead, showing for the fifth time in this legendary series that George A. Romero remains the undisputed master of the zombie movie.
When it was first announced that ol’ George was going the route of the fake-documentary there was a collective groan from the entire fanbase. The idea of more post-Blair Witch antics didn’t excite much of anyone and the approach sure as hell didn’t seem right for a Dead film. But fear not, folks, for all those doubts have been put down with a bullet to the head. Diary is an uncompromised return to the indie roots that made this series great. Whatever your opinion of 2005’s Land of the Dead, there’s no argument that this installment is a big step up and shows Romero back in his element.
Here the walking dead once again play host to a dense commentary on society. Above all else, the Dead series is Romero’s view of our twisted world, and he’s torn into everything from consumerism to class struggles to good old fashioned human stupidity. Diary takes on the media, satirizing everything from government-controlled news networks to the online world of video blogging. It’s made all the more impressive that Romero – a guy in his late sixties – has more than a solid grasp on the younger generation’s attachment to viral media.
The story takes us back to the first night of the zombie outbreak where a group of film students decide to record their survival story with their documentary “The Death of Death.” The reluctant group is forced into action by director Jason Creed who, not unlike the Loose Change whack-jobs, is obsessed with broadcasting his version of “the truth” – no matter what the cost. It’s here that Diary introduces a whole new spin on the zombie metaphor: Anyone who picks up a camera becomes “infected” with their leader’s obsession. As the narrated documentary winds on, it’s clear that the group is more fixated with telling a story than their own safety until the lines between truth and sensationalism collapse.
Even with its cinema-verite style, nothing about Diary feels gimmicky, quite the opposite in fact. Romero’s documentary approach completely immerses you in the world of his characters (portrayed by a solid cast of unknowns) and at no point does it recall other films before it. In many ways, it’s the perfect platform for his thematic brand of storytelling. There are moments when Romero goes overboard with his ideas, with some heavy-handed bits of narration and atrocious one-liners that snap you out of the reality of the story, but these are small things that could easily be fixed with a few trims.
Diary is a return to form in more ways than one. The pulp action stylings of Dawn, Day, and Land have been jettisoned in favor of a bleak nihilistic tone similar to that of the original Night. The scale is smaller and the story more intimate, so Romero is more concerned with minimalist thrills this time around (it’s doubtful this will cause a stir with the MPAA). But rest assured the man hasn’t run out of crazy ways to kill zombies.
Ending with a haunting final shot, Romero poses a single question that perfectly brings his creation full circle. Whether or not Diary of the Dead is the last installment remains to be seen, but it’s hard to imagine a more fitting send-off to what is arguably horror’s greatest series.
4 1/2 out of 5