Sunday, February 17, 2008

Diary of the Dead

Title: Diary of the Dead (2008)
Dir: George A. Romero
Rating: *1/2 out of 5 stars

I'm not fanatical about Romero's older zombie films, but I did enjoy them for the most part. Night of the Living Dead pioneered the modern zombie; Dawn of the Dead had a cool concept and thought-provoking ideas; and Day of the Dead was just a lot of fun (I like it a lot more than most people).

Then there was Land of the Dead. Ugh. Need I say more? The phrase "turd factory" comes to mind. So when Diary of the Dead was announced, my expectations were low, and remained so until I actually saw the film. As a result, I was not surprised or disappointed to discover how lame this film is.

Diary utilizes the POV camera style that is all the rage right now. The story is told from the perspective of some college students with a video camcorder. As the dead return to life and start killing everyone, the protagonists make their way toward home in an RV, filming all the zombie chaos along the way.

Let's begin with the film's style. A lead character narrates the whole film and explains that what we are watching is a documentary the characters made. Romero should have dropped this angle altogether. Seeing raw footage (ala Cloverfield) would have felt much more realistic, and the constant narration bugged the hell out of me. It always pulled me out of the film - every time.

Now - the characters. Not a likable one in the bunch. Jason, who never puts down the camera because he is obsessed with capturing "the truth", is just a dick. Who watches their friends and loved ones get attacked and does nothing but film? It's not shocking, it's just unrealistic. His girlfriend (and our narrator) is just a bitch. Then there's some generally annoying characters, like a Texas belle who actually uses the phrase, "Don't mess with Texas." Twice. And lest I forget, there is a ridiculous British professor who is always drunk and spouting off literary quotes (and he's an ace with guns and a hunting bow, of course).

This brings me to the dialogue - my god, it's terrible. Probably my biggest complaint of the whole film. And the bad acting doesn't help. This film's dialogue rivals George Lucas' dialogue, folks. I don't want to go into any of it cause it'd be spoilerish, so I'll leave it at that.

And finally - Mr. Romero. I've always appreciated his knack for injecting political and social commentary into his horror films. But this principal has now twice failed. I fear he is becoming far too heavy-handed with his old age. In Diary, he pushes 2 or 3 different messages, and not one of them is subtle. Most of the movie emphasizes how the mainstream media lies. To suggest this, Romero simply has his narrate say it and uses media footage. Way to be subtle, George. Then he wants to tell us that human beings are natural voyeurs, particularly drawn to violence. This is a good theme for the film, I only wish it was more SUBTLE. Once again, he beats us over the head with it. And then the worst one - there is an abrupt moral suggestion tacked onto the very end of the film. While I see what it's stabbing at, it really does not work in the final scene.

Oh, and I also need to express how disappointed I was that Greg Nicotero's talents were once again wasted (just as with Land of the Dead). The CGI wasn't as god-awful as with Land, but the makeup fx were not showcased as they should have been.

On the positive side, there were one or two cool zombie death scenes. And one particularly funny scene involving an old Amish man. And you ubergeeks can keep your ears open for voice cameos from Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino, Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Wes Craven.

I don't think Diary of the Dead was quite as bad as its predecessor, but I am disliking it more and more as I think about it. I fear it may be time for Romero to throw in the towel.