Originally I was hesitant to watch Diary of the Dead; it looked like a Cloverfield/Blair Witch Project rip off. It didn’t even make it into any theaters in my area and I thought it was a direct to DVD release (which is incorrect). However, I think it’s one of the better of Romero’s zombie films and I liked it much better than Land of the Dead. Romero’s use of multiple hand-held cameras goes beyond the simplicity of this gimmick and contains his usual brand of social commentary, relevant and insightful without being too heavy handed.
The film isn’t an attempt to make a direct sequel to the previous films but to reinvent the series. This is made abundantly clear with Survival of the Dead, which features a few characters from Diary. Diary of the Dead starts with a group of film students making a horror film in the woods when they find out about the dead returning to life. Their class project turns into a documentary, following the students throughout their journey through a world falling apart. The primary protagonist Debra (Michelle Morgan) is a pretty strong character and her boyfriend/co-collaborator Jason (Josh Close) is a decent counterpart, obsessed with documenting the events around them. Throughout the film Debra is constantly commenting on Jason’s inability to experience the world around him without the camera, which is part of Romero’s critique of a media obsessed culture and our inability to depict reality without the assistance of a media interpretation. Just like Baudrillard’s concept of a succession of images dictates one’s interpretation of reality, Jason and many in Diary of the Dead are incapable of making sense of the events around them without access to such images.
In addition to a critique of America and the West’s reliance on media (be it television or the internet), Romero is making a statement regarding the messages conveyed by those in power and taking a page from Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. Most of the information provided during the zombie outbreak via television and official sources is actually misinformation, while the people themselves are telling the truth on the internet. The internet in Diary of the Dead is the last bastion of free speech, yet just like all media technology it is reliant on an infrastructure maintained by those doling out the misinformation. Debra makes a valid point when she states, “technology is great…except when it doesn’t work.”
Just like the previous films in the Living Dead trilogy, there is a plethora a blood, but the film primarily revolves around the characters, which is the hallmark of any good zombie film. The acting is pretty good considering that, like most of Romero’s films, it contains a cast of unknowns. Wikipedia states the film cost around $2 million dollars to produce and Box Office Mojo sets the domestic gross at a little less than a million yet the final worldwide gross at over $5 million. Just like most of Romero’s zombie films, it pulled a profit, albeit a small one and not comparable to either Dawn or Land of the Dead. It’s good to see that Romero is able to make a competent zombie film almost 40 years after his initial foray into the genre. Below is the trailer.
Here is my review from Netflix. One person liked it.
Diary of the Dead (2007/8)
I’ve heard a lot of negative criticism regarding Romero’s Diary of the Dead, yet I found it to be a poignant take on the zombie film. I also found it to be a sharp critique of the digital age and the loss of power that televised news once held. Diary of the Dead follows a group of student filmmakers making a cheap horror film when the zombie epidemic beings. From then on the characters decide to document their journey through civilization’s descent into chaos, which parallels their perceptions of social reality being changed also. The mainstream means of narrative are disappearing and distorting events; the internet is the only medium that’s a bastion of freedom. Because of the efforts of Romero’s main characters and others in similar situations, people are receiving accurate information. It seems that aside from a commentary on the internet as a new and dominant medium, Romero is demonstrating pieces of Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, saying the mainstream media is filled with misinformation. As far as a zombie film goes, it’s violent, scary, and shows people dealing with a situation beyond their comprehension. The acting is pretty good considering that, just like most of Romero’s films, it’s using unknown actors. The narrative switches around between the viewpoint of the students’ cameras and a third person perspective, yet the beginning of the film frames the story as told exclusively through the eyes of the protagonists. However, this switch in narrative voices doesn’t take away from the quality of the movie and is something that I was able to overlook for the most part. It’s much better than Land of the Dead, which I thought wasn’t as good. I know I’m going to get a bunch of crap for that statement.