Monday, January 12, 2009
Diary of the Dead (2008)
"Are we worth saving? You tell me."
Ah, horror films that fill themselves with sanctimonious horseshit. Diary of the Dead is one such film, not satisfied with simply scaring us, but in trying to establish a 'deep' or profound philosophy, as if it were going to teach us something about ourselves. I lol'd.
What comes as a shock is this is helmed by Romero, the man responsible for three of the best and most influential zombie flicks ever. Without Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, the popularity of the zombie survival horror genre would not be quite what it is today. It is unfortunate that unlike those first three films (and the somewhat lacking Land of the Dead), this diary is so pompous as to almost entirely lack the fright factor. Those early works could scare us by simply doing. By showing. Diary tries to go beyond that, with its saccharine implications of innate human evil, and the typical lowbrow 'media cover-up' squalor.
People: NO. First off, zombie invasion is never going to happen. Secondly, if zombies do arise, shoot them in the fucking head with no prejudice. Everyone on Earth at this point in history understands this. We don't need to reflect upon the evils of our souls for poaching zombies. This is ludicrous, and for a film so intent on giving a 'realistic' angle to the crisis, erodes the viewer's suspension of disbelief entirely. Granted, the film is intended to take place as a side story to Night of the Living Dead, the first of the cycle (you may notice certain anachronisms to the time period in which that film was set, but they are easily overlooked). So the zombies are supposed to be happening for the first time.
Another stark contrast to the earlier flicks is that, in typical Hollywood fashion, Romero has decided to stock the cast with hot young bods, rather than the more mature and believable characters he used before. There is the exception of Scott Wentworth as Andrew Maxwell, the spirit swilling, English professor with the classic soul who finds himself stuck with the youngsters, but even he comes off rather dry. As far as the acting goes, it's not exactly terrible, but there are no standout performances either. You'd expect people to cuss often during a zombie crisis, but here all the 'fuck' words come across as a transparent excuse to get edgy. The makeup and effects in the film are fine. Like his previous work, Romero does not skimp on the gore (one of the reasons his Dead films are so memorable), and you'll see several wonderful scenes of butchery. These aren't creative, but they are effective enough.
OMGSPOILERWARNING (from here on out)
The film is shot as a 'film within a film', a sort of documentary which follows a group of college students through the events. The main character (whose camera we view much of the film through) has the noble ambition to film the 'reality' of the outbreak, and spread it around on the interwebz (oh wait, they totally had Myspace during the Night of the Living Dead) so people can see what's actually happening. Or rather, a gruesome series of scenes that are somehow supposed to affect us emotionally, in the middle of zombies trying to eat us? Horseshit. Even more dry is the flat narration of Jason Creed's girlfriend, Debra, who comes to occasional odds with Creed over his obsession with filming the events rather than actually stepping in and helping out. In one of the lamest scenes in the film, Creed gets his 'come-uppance', but none of the audience will care even remotely. In fact, the only character we actually might care about dying is the Amish deaf mute Samuel who appears for a few brief scenes.
Yes, this film has an Amish man lobbing dynamite at zombies and impaling them with a scythe. Maybe you can track this part down on Youtube, because otherwise I have just saved you 70+ minutes of your life. I'd add the birthday clown zombie to the + list except that scene sucks. There are also many cameos, including voiced radio/TV clips by zombie film luminaries like Simon Pegg, Wes Craven, Stephen King, Tom Savini, etc. This might appeal to the die hards.
The first-person documentary style of the film is mediocre at best. While films such as [REC] and Blair Witch Project used this style very well, here it is more like a Cloverfield, in which you will find yourself screaming at the stupid camera jockey to actually shut the camera off and do something. It strains all credibility of a scenario which otherwise strives to be believed. There are numerous idiotic deaths in the film which lead me to believe more people need to read their Zombie Survival Guide. The characters' movements through the film culminate in the survivors stowing themselves safely away in a panic room.
The film can't help but take a few cheap jabs with its Hollywood stereotypes. Black looters, 'evil' white National Guardsmen, and of course those evil rednecks strapping zombies to trees and shooting them 'for fun'. What were those silly rednecks thinking? They should totally leave those zombies alone to murder their families and destroy the world. If you can't tell, I have no moral objection to using zombies as target practice whatsoever.
And as for the introductory question (which closes the film's narrative), yes, we are worth saving. Except for preachy horror films, which can kindly check out of Hotel Existence.
Verdict: Fail [3/10]