I love George Romero, and I have no beef with him spinning off however many movies he wants from his original Night of the Living Dead, including his latest, Diary of the Dead. But that said, the new film is a mixed bag.
For one thing, in execution it feels like a poor man’s Cloverfield, coming so hard on the heels of that more fully realized production in which a group of young people facing calamity somehow never fail to record it all on video for our consumption, post-calamity. In Diary this fits a bit, at least, since the most obsessive video chronicler is a film student from Pitt — part of a group of students and one prof who have been out in the sticks shooting a creaky of old mummy movie, of all things, when a zombie plague hits.
The on-camera self-introductions are painfully stilted, but the rest starts to make sense when the chronicler spins his self-serving auteurism into a crusade for the truth by uploading his images on the ‘net to spread word about the horror after the media, for some reason, in total lockstep, spread lies about it. Of course, what would be the point of some mass conspiratorial media whitewash when a zombie army starts chomping down on all living humans (even if such a thing were possible)? And, of course, there are too many people in too many countries who could do the same thing as this guy. No way could this have been some sort of best kept secret that our valiant crusader singlehandedly exposes to help save the world. The plague was simply too pervasive, as are our communications options these days.
The film also has some awkward dialogue and wearisome stereotypes, but still — it’s good. In fact, it’s very good if you love Romero, as I do, and thus are in a forgiving mood. No, it doesn’t look as convincingly on-the-fly as Cloverfield’s amateur videographer shoot did (or The Blair Witch Project’s did, for that matter), and the necessity of establishing self-shot footage often gets in the way. But the story takes some strong twists and turns, the cast of unknowns is game and the ending leaves an enticing door open for yet another Dead sequel, prequel, remake, realization, or whatever you want to call them.
There’s also a superb extra feature called “Familiar Voices” which reveals that some of the off-camera voices heard on TV or the ‘net are actually Romero devotees who recorded them by phone for him as a favor. Three such sessions are played with the voices identified, and we’re asked to guess the rest. The three we now know are Stephen King, Simon Pegg and Guillermo del Toro. Though Pegg is the only legitimate actor among them, King and del Toro do the best job, especially del Toro. Hey, everybody wants to be in a zombie movie, even if it’s only as a disembodied voice. Enjoy!