Friday, February 15, 2008

‘Diary of the Dead’ Review - SendMeRSS

Yesterday while many people were enjoying Valentine's Day, and showering themselves with gifts and having romantic dinners, I had taken my single ass to the theatres to see the Toronto pre-screening of the fifth installment in George A. Romero's popular "Dead" series. Yup, instead of staying at home and feeling like I've had my heart ripped out, I opted to go the movies to hopefully see characters get their hearts ripped out….literally.  Since the film was filmed in Toronto, the audience was lucky to see some of the main actors of the film who came out to support it. I've been very excited to see 'Diary of the Dead' for a long time, and was hoping it would blow my mind away. Did I get what I was hoping for? Read on to find out!

General Idea: A film crew shooting a horror movie for a class project suddenly realizes the world is being taken over by the "walking dead." They decide to document their horrific experiences of trying to stay alive on camera for the public. They later piece together and re-edit footage from their camcorders, camera phones, security tapes, and the news to make a film entitled 'The Death of Death.'

The Good: You have to give it up to George A. Romero. The man knows how to stay consistent. Like all his movies, the zombie outbreak takes place in the Present, and the reasons why the dead walk the earth still remains an enigma. (Something I've always loved.)

Also, something I always admired about this man is his ability of adapting and growing with the times.  Most people know now that his 'Dead' movies are not just about zombies taking over the earth, but more importantly about current social issues and examining how ugly the human condition can be. In 'Diary of the Dead,' he makes the audience observe society's current and ever growing obsession of blogging and social network groups like facebook, MySpace, and YouTube.  While I watched the film, I realized that the zombie outbreak wasn't the only thing infecting the humans. It became apparent that Romero was trying to point out how we have become a generation of people that would rather watch people living out their lives on a computer screen, instead of living our own. In fact, the characters in the movie become so immersed with filming, that their need for survival starts to diminish. This was an excellent point to get across to the audience.

Additionally, the kills in this movie were fantastic! Romero has some of the most inventive and creative kills I have ever seen in a movie! (There's a particular one involving a cardiac defibrillator that was pure gold!) The audience was cheering every time one of the undead met their demise. This to me was (visually) the strongest point of the film, so I won't spoil all the memorably gory moments.

The audience is also introduced to the greatest character ever seen in a horror movie.  When you see Samuel, the elderly deaf zombie killing Amish man, believe me that you will have a giant smile on your face. (Too bad he wasn't in the film more.) Honestly, if they had made the movie just about him, I would have been cheering the whole way.

The Bad:  Although Romero's creative twist on the new "hand held" sub-genre was a fairly original concept*, (*showing us a documentary that's been re-edited by the characters to look like an actual horror film) it unfortunately didn't succeed in wowing me over.

While popular hand held movies like 'The Blair Witch Project,' 'Cloverfield,' and 'Rec' made you feel like you're watching real-life footage because of gritty and jerky camera work and natural acting from the leads, 'Diary of the Dead' had sleek camera work and actors who LOOKED like they were acting. (Poorly I might add.) For the entire running time I was completely aware I was watching a movie, instead of watching an illusion of real-life events.

Also, although I can't believe I'm going to write this, (considering this IS a zombie flick) my suspension of disbelief was definitely pushed to the limit.

Somehow, these college kids all managed to have perfect aim and gunmanship when it came to killing the zombies. (Even the drunken professor had extremely accurate bowsmanship.) They also managed to constantly make stupid moves and mistakes which frustrated me to no end. (If you were in your friend's house and was convinced her undead family was hiding in the house, would the first thing you do is tell her to get her childhood toy to calm down? NO…I didn't think so.)   I also found it very hard to believe that friends would not only tape, but re-edit a documentary of most of them getting picked off one by one to look and sound like a slasher film. (However, considering what Romero was trying to do with this film, this might not be a bad thing after all.)

Last but not least, one of the biggest letdowns of this film was realizing Romero's tactful way of covering all the social commentary within his 'Dead' films was long gone. No longer is there any under-lining subtext for the messages he was trying to get across in this entry. Unlike 'Cloverfield,' which was able to demonstrate how we have become a press-whoring youtube and MySpace generation through one scene where crowds of panicked people foolishly stop running for their lives to take pictures on their camera phones of the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty on the ground, 'Diary of the Dead' spends the entire running time of the movie drilling this message in our heads through many ostentatious voice-overs, and characters without the ability to retain any inner monologue, reminding us how bad our society has become.  Although, I know it wasn’t Romero’s intention at all, it still felt like he had underestimated his audience’s I.Q. Unfortunately, this was disappointing to see.

Overall: ‘Diary of the Dead’ is a movie that was beautifully directed, yet horribly acted.  Although the movie’s message was a powerful one, it would have been far more powerful if the movie hadn’t treated its audience like Wile.E Coyote and constantly hitting us over the heads with ACME-sized “social commentary” anvils.   This is honestly the first time I feel horrible for not being able to like the movie more than I did.  (This is probably because George Romero just happens to be one of the sweetest and charismatic directors alive.) However, despite the movie’s flaws, I still would recommend this for fans of the series, because it definitely delivers the goods that horror fans crave for.

I give this movie…. (GULP) a 6.5 out of 10. (I’m sorry, George! :P)

Link - Comments - john@themovieblog.com (John Campea) - Fri, 15 Feb 2008 10:21:37 GMT - Feed (2 subs)
User comment: By: Brian
I think some film makers forget that the reason most people go to the movies is to be entertained, not lectured. In this case (and I have not seen this film yet) it seems that Romero breaks rule #1 - scare us first. Then slide the commentary underneath.
User comment: By: steven
i always find that the remake of romero's films are better that said, i would really like him to do a movie where "of the dead" was not in the title.
User comment: By: Keith.
*I has Massively* (???) I WAS massively let down...
User comment: By: Bishop
In all likelihood I will still watch it. The reviews all seem so lukewarm which makes me sad, but then again, I really didn't like "LotD".
User comment: By: Keith.
I agree with everything about this review. I has massively let down when the credits started to roll.
User comment: By: whitechapel
The heavy handedness is a common issue with people I know that didn't like it. It didn't bother me too much though. I interpreted it as how the protagonist was cutting the footage. I believe it was Romero taking a stab at doc filmmakers like Michael Moore. Doc filmmakers who set out (hopefully) to be impartial, but end up inserting their own agendas. Not to give anything away, but the film they were making starts off as one thing and becomes another. Nowhere near the calibur of the original trilogy, but I had a real blast watching it. SAMUEL ROCKS!
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