Diary of the Dead (2008)


By Scott Weinberg
Like any smart horror freak, you love your Romero flicks. After watching and re-watching Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead, you're pretty sure you've got the formula figured out by now: A small band of survivors must withstand a massive zombie onslaught as body parts and social commentary fly around the room with a whole lot of blood. So when you heard that the zombie master was climbing back into the director's chair for Diary of the Dead, you knew what you were in for.

Surprise! Diary of the Dead is so (impressively) different from Romero's previous undead entries (except for maybe the original) that if the flick arrived in theaters without credits, I doubt you'd guess it was a Romero flick. And I mean that as a compliment. Intent on re-inventing the genre that he invented 40-some years ago, Romero doesn't even come close to relying on formula this time out, and his Diary of the Dead is a movie that will probably divide his fans right down the middle. If it's another massive army of the undead you're looking for, my advice is to stick with Dawn or Day, but if you're down for a sort of a zombie genre "reboot," one that alters the playing field without negating the original series, I'm guessing you'll appreciate what old George has cooked up here.

A group of young filmmakers are deep in the woods making (you guessed it) a horror flick. But what's this? How can the world be NORMAL in a George Romero zombie movie? Well, dear gorehound, it's because we're starting back at the beginning here, and it's through the lens of the filmmakers that we'll witness the beginning of the end. (And by "end" I mean "zombie apocalypse.") So yes: It would indeed be somewhat appropriate to call this movie "zombie flick, Blair Witch style." Just like you could call Cloverfield "King Kong, Blair Witch style." Let's just call it a new(-ish) form of cinematic storytelling that arose because, let's face it, everyone and their grandmother owns a video camera by this point. Sure, some of the acting is pretty stiff, and yes, it takes a certain suspension of disbelief to "buy" that the kids would ALWAYS keep the camera running -- but when a great filmmaker decides to pick up a camera and do something low-budget over the course of three weeks, just because he wants to .. it's a little easier to forgive some of the indie-style rough spots.

So our filmmakers within the film turn into unwilling documentarians once the dead start rising and chomping on stray humans. Ample attacks are balanced (quite adeptly) with Romero's signature brand of sly social commentary. This time around he's tweaking the conventions of mass communication, the reliability of the American media, and (of course) what sort of person might actually survive in a world gone suddenly zombified and cannibalistic. Easily one of Romero's most efficient concoctions, Diary strikes a strong balance between basic horror hijinks and some slightly brainier concepts (with some good humor tossed in as well), resulting in a total package that might not measure up to Night or Dawn -- but I'm pretty sure it's a damn sight more satisfying than Land of the Dead. Few horror-makers can balance the carnage and the cranium like George Romero can, and it's great to see the guy still making smart, sly, fun horror movies, even after all these years.