TIFF Review: George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead
by Alex Billington
September 13, 2007
The original creator of the modern cinematic zombie, George A. Romero, is back at it again this time with a very low budget independent film called Diary of the Dead. The concept is the key: the entire film is seen from the point-of-view of the filmmaker, a budding student by the name of Jason (Joshua Close) from the University of Pittsburgh (a throwback to Romero's zombie origins) who, while out filming his student movie, gets caught up in a zombie epidemic. Jason and his friends attempt to travel home in their Winnebago while dodging hordes of zombies and citizens seeking survival that are willing to use deadly force to maintain it.
I wasn't alone in really hoping Romero, who wrote and directed the film, would bring back the zombie genre in force. Unfortunately this film has a list of problems, starting with the application of an incredibly cheesy narration. Following that, news footage and other random out-of-place footage is spliced in at points right in the middle of their adventure. If it were just the point-of-view story from start to finish, it could've been better, but instead Romero tries to inject the film with a political message about mainstream media. His claim is that only bloggers and renegade filmmakers (like Jason) will bring the world the real truth behind what's happening while the mainstream will cover it up. If it wasn't too much to interpret this from the film in general, Romero employs the narrator and pointless footage to outright state his claims.
Once you wade through those annoying elements, the point-of-view experience was quite thrilling but hardly scary. An effective zombie movie, especially for experienced zombie fanatics, maintains not only badass zombie-killing action, but also an intense atmosphere and genuine scares, and even a light touch of comedy. Diary of the Dead hardly had any of this, except for a few spots of comedy. It had some good zombie kills fit amidst a watered down mediocre story about this filmmaking student more concerned with telling the truth than saving the life of his girlfriend.
Overall I won't deny that when caught up in the scenes, including almost everything in the first half and their visit to the eerily empty hospital, it does provide some good ole zombie entertainment. Unfortunately this doesn't last and you'll realize quick enough that this is a far worse zombie film than Planet Terror or even 28 Weeks Later and that the concept, while great on paper, falls apart on film. And in the end don't forget, the Amish know how to kill zombies the best!