Diary of the Dead: Dead air



Even if Diary of the Dead were a complete success, it would suffer from some of the most unfortunate timing imaginable. Pioneering zombie director George Romero presents the film through the lens of a single cameraman compelled to record the apocalyptic events – and Diary opens Feb. 15, only a few weeks after Cloverfield presented the same kind of gimmick with terrifying, breathtaking and stylistically sophisticated results.

Unfortunately, Diary doesn’t master the Blair Witch shtick with nearly the same flair as Cloverfield, despite some skin-crawling moments, such as an early scene of bodies rising from gurneys at a TV news shoot. The film all but collapses under the weight of its Serious Themes about the news media, the Internet and the contemporary American class struggle. I’ll be writing about Diary more next week, but want to say here that it resembles nothing so much as the zombie movie equivalent of Brian De Palma’s Iraq war drama Redacted, and that’s no compliment.

Coincidentally, De Palma and Romero were both born in 1940, and both films suggest that the directors discovered online phenomena like blogs and video file-sharing, without fully "digesting" them or figuring out how they speak to events with such real-world gravity as the Iraq war or the metaphorical possibilities of a zombie holocaust. You admire the technical brio and ambition of both films, yet both send thudding messages that crash down on the audience’s head. Diary features seemingly endless voice-over speeches that are so explicit and heavy-handed, it’s as if Romero thinks we’re zombies already.

On a lighter note, the first-person camera perspective has already told a scary, unnerving tale in the Dead franchise. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead features a closing credit sequence in which characters discover a video camera. At first it comes across as light-hearted home movies (the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” plays puckishly in the background) – and then it starts taking some disturbing turns. I caution that the clip is Not Safe for Work, obviously reveals the ending of the film and doesn’t work nearly as well out of context and on the tiny screen. It still scares me more than Diary of the Dead.

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