Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Russell Jones, Craig Stovin, James Fisher, Anna Blades, Imogen Church
Directed by Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates
Distributed by Dimension Extreme
Cinéma-vérité films have become all the rage lately. In fact some of the best movies I have seen in recent years have implemented this style of filmmaking. Rec, Diary of the Dead, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield … the list can go on and on. Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates started production on their film The Zombie Diaries a good couple of years before any of those mentioned above, but the result is just as nail-bitingly real.
The film basically takes place in three parts, or diaries if you’ve decided to play along. Three separate sets of found footage that are at first unrelated but later come full circle tying into one another. In total the combined recovered films cover about a month of dead-fueled goings on, from the outset of the pandemic until military involvement weeks later. The dead are up, hungry, and looking to tear any surviving human to tiny shreds. But what if they weren’t the only danger for our heroes to contend with? What if a more frightening and bloodthirsty menace comes from the people we assume we can trust just because they’re suffering through the same shit that we are? Thus is the main plot for this well above average indie feature.
Though the dead in The Zombie Diaries, are plentiful and absolutely scary looking, they are far from the focus of this feature. This flick is more of a study on human behavior under extreme circumstances than it is your usual pale skinned and shambling eat-em-up.
Much like the incredible graphic novels The Walking Dead, what we have here is a drama that unfolds in what happens to be a world on the brink of extinction. The zombies are completely secondary. That’s not to say you won’t get your fair share of undead action. In fact, the dead in this world are everywhere, and man, do they look bitching! The F/X in The Zombie Diaries is truly top shelf for its budget — every cent of which is up on the screen. Even the most bloodhungry of fans out there should be thoroughly satisfied by the time the end credits run.
There is one big pitfall that holds the movie back from a higher rating though. At times it can be kind of confusing as to whom you are watching up on the screen. The non-linear approach to storytelling within the movie, combined with the prerequisite shaky-cam, is bound to have many viewers scratching their heads and wondering, “Were those the people from the last diary, or are these the same ones from this one, or maybe they’re new characters altogether?”. It can get a bit convoluted. Be warned — this isn’t mindless entertainment. If you’re not paying extreme attention to everything that’s going on, it will be easy to find yourself lost. Things are a lot easier upon a second viewing, however, and thank god for that.
The DVD itself is sporting some great special features to help sort things out beginning with two commentary tracks, one with co-directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates and the other with cast members Russell Jones, Anna Blades, Craig Stovin, Jonathan Ball, and Hiram Bleetman. Of the two tracks I’m going to have to say the directors’ commentary is the one worth your time. It’s clever, informative, and engaging. The second, though not bad, doesn’t flow as easily. From there we get a near hour-long behind-the-scenes making of the movie along with several deleted scenes from each diary. Tack on the theatrical trailer, and that, my friends, is a wrap.
Though The Zombie Diaries doesn’t exactly break any new ground, it does provide viewers with an extremely visceral and at times bleak experience. There are no clever one-liners to be found here — this is straight in-your-face horror that sets the stage for hopefully more things to come. I’m certain there are other Diaries out there just waiting to be found, and as long as Bartlett and Gates are involved, you can rest assured that there are going to be some deliciously dark days ahead of us. Amen.
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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