The Zombie Diaries is another one of those "fake documentary" experiments that low-budget filmmakers like to attempt, mainly because it's such an inexpensive way to tell a potentially creepy tale. The grand-daddy of this sub-genre is, of course, Cannibal Holocaust, but there have been a few others (The Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project, Behind the Mask, and George Romero's upcoming Diary of the Dead) that have pulled the trick off quite cleverly. This latest offering suffers from a laundry list of obvious issues (pacing and acting in particular), but once the flick starts moving -- 40-some minutes in, that is -- there are some compelling twists, interesting ideas, and gooey gorings littered about the screen.
We begin with "diary 1," which offers three young filmmakers as they head off to interview someone in a distant village. Unfortunately, the UK is just about to be stricken with a horrific virus that (eventually) allows the recently-dead to rise from the grave. After a whole lot of wheel-spinning, bland dialog, and unconvincing emoting, we switch to another "diary," which details some morbid misadventures from another group of survivors. Later still, we jump over to a new set of characters. Eventually the plot threads (semi-)intersect, but the problem is that none of the folks are all that interesting. Aside from the fact that they're all trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, you'd have a hard time caring about any of these people. And the convoluted construction of the story doesn't help much.
The multi-plotted approach doesn't really work all that well, feeling more like an editorial room gimmick than an intentional story-telling device. Plus the fractured narrative works to slow the movie down to a crawl, and I doubt that's what co-directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates were going for. Throw in some plot threads that are left dangling and a distractingly underdeveloped story arc, and sure (as is often the case when dealing with a low-budget genre film made by people with more enthusiasm than cash), there's plenty of nitpicks to make on The Zombie Diaries.
But that's not to say that Bartlett and Gates don't have a few cool ideas or deliver a few solid sequences. The zombie attacks and the gore-droppings arrive on only an intermittent basis, but a solid handful of the shocks / scares work surprisingly well. And while the flick certainly doesn't need to offer a "one month earlier" subplot, some of the material found in this section is pretty grim and disturbing. Overall, it's a so-so indie flick that doesn't always work, but does exhibit a strong affection for the sub-genre. At its best, the movie has a few novel ideas and a fistful of satisfactory gristle, but The Zombie Diaries ends up a mildly diverting experiment that will appeal to only the staunchest of zombie aficionados.
[ The Zombie Diaries had its European premiere at the 2007 UK FrightFest, and will be available stateside by mid-2008. ]