I need to say right off the bat that I’m not a fan of horror movies in general. I just can’t get into them. George Romero’s zombie flicks are the only real exception to my lack of appreciation for the genre. Since seeing Night of the Living Dead as a kid and finding myself both terrified and fascinated by the film, I’ve always had a thing for Romero’s style when it comes to horror movies. Generally I think it’s the combination of a good story, good dialogue and good gore that make his films so great. Unfortunately, in the case of Diary of the Dead, while the gore was present, the dialogue and the story were severely lacking.
Diary of the Dead is told from the perspective of a bunch of college kids who capture their experience with zombies on film as the attacks break out while they’re off in the woods shooting a no-budget horror movie. The film starts out with some video footage of a zombie attack and a voiceover of Debra (Michelle Morgan). She explains that the footage we’re about to see is based on their accounts with the zombies and that she’s presenting the film to us because people need to know the truth. Her boyfriend Jason (Josh Close), whom she speaks about in the past tense, is credited as the producer of the film.
What sets Diary apart from the previous Of the Dead films is the fact that the entire film is told from the perspective of Jason’s camera as well as a few other cameras that come into play during their adventure. The fact that Jason refuses to put down the camera even when zombies are attacking his friends is something that is addressed numerous times throughout the movie. Debra doesn’t understand why he insists on capturing what is clearly the worst few days of their lives on film. His argument is that people need to know what really happened rather than having to rely on what the media is telling them.
This brings me to the first major disappointment of the film. The social commentary is laid on so thick and often it becomes muddled. At certain points throughout the film, I thought that the message was about not trusting the media’s version of the story. But then, after the characters are viewing videos online of other people’s accounts with the zombies, the message (which is often explained by Debra in her voice-over) is that there’s so much information out there that people don’t know what the truth is anymore. So if that’s the case, wouldn’t Jason’s videos only contribute to the confusion?
I started out liking the whole idea of film focusing on people using the internet to communicate with each other all over the world and help people figure out how to escape and kill the zombies. It’s nice to see Romero integrating current social networking trends into his films. The problem was that it was talked about more than it was shown in the movie. Between Jason and Debra’s constant bickering over him recording everything and Debra’s voiceovers, it felt as though we were constantly being reminded of the whole point of the movie rather than the message(s) coming through in the actual story of the film.
There were also portions of the Diary that felt as though they didn’t really fit into the story. At one point, the kids are captured by a group of black people who have taken control of the town because, as the man who appears to be the leader explains it, all the white people have left and they now have the control. The whole idea of racial issues and organized looting (the group has a warehouse full of stolen goods) is intriguing but at the same time, there isn’t enough of this story arc in the film to really justify it’s presence at all. It felt like too big of and idea to cram into such a tiny space. It probably would’ve been better if they had developed it a bit more or else cut it out completely.
My final issue with the film was that in some scenes, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or be scared. For example, at one point in the film, a girl is being attacked by a zombie and the whole scene plays out exactly as the girl described a scene they were going to do in the horror movie they were making. It was pretty clear that this was supposed to be funny but at the same time, it was also kind of scary. I’m all for a bit of humor with my horror but in most of the semi-funny scenes in Diary, it felt like the timing was off, leaving the scene feeling silly rather than scary or funny (or both). It also didn’t help that the professor, who oftentimes spoke in a wise, worldy manner only managed to come off as campy rather than dramatic. The only genuinely laugh-out-loud funny portion of the film involved a deaf Amish guy. Had the rest of the movie been as funny as that part of the movie, I would’ve loved it.
What did work in this film is what always works in Romero’s films: bloodshed. If you’re looking for gore, there’s no shortage of it in his latest. One of the things that Romero has never failed at is finding new and horrific ways to show just how easily human flesh can be torn up and destroyed. He’s a true master at this and definitely delivers the goods here. If you’re only interested in the bloody aspect of the movie, you probably wont be disappointed with Diary of the Dead. The sound effects and music are also laid out well enough to make you jump at all the right moments, keeping the suspense moving even when the story falls a bit flat.