DIARY OF THE DEAD Directed by George A. Romero. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (February 15). Rating: NNN
This fifth entry in George A. Romero’s groundbreaking yet atrophying zombie series could easily have been a piece of shit. Diarrhea Of The Dead, if you will.
But as in Night Of The Living Dead, the 16mm classic that gave rise to the genre, Romero finds ways to make Diary’s obvious limitations – a no-budget first-person-POV premise – work in fresh and grotesquely funny ways.
First, he smartly reboots the entire series à la Casino Royale by moving the original zombie outbreak into the present. A student film crew is making a mummy movie when the dead start crawling out of the ground and chewing the scenery. The resident Cecil B. Demented (Joshua Close), in a fit of Michael Moore-like fame-seeking, decides to document their bloody escape, and the rest of the film is seen through his lens as well as through surveillance video and online clips.
Romero’s films have always contained a thin subtext of satirical social commentary. Yes, they have brains. The 1968 original was an angry response to the turmoil of the year it was made; Dawn Of The Dead tackled 1970s consumerism; Day Of The Dead reflected the militaristic Reagan era; only 2005’s Land Of
The Dead felt out of touch precisely because its “eat the rich” message left very little to chew on.
This time out, Romero has fashioned a film aimed squarely at today’s over-stimulated blogger types. Where Cloverfield’s over-hyped first-person cinema was a smirking, exploitative hipster wank, Diary taps into the YouTube generation’s obsession with self-documentation.
Romero buries his usual “we’re them, they’re us” trope beneath something much more relevant. As one meal-in-heels (Michelle Morgan) puts it, “If you don’t film it, it’s like it never happened.”
It’s ham-fisted at times. The narration gnaws pretty quickly, as Romero delivers his message with the finesse of a scythe to the skull. Yet it works.
Intentionally self-conscious, Diary is like the grisliest reality series ever created. Think Survivor: Zombie Apocalypse, where the motto is “Out-scream, outrun, outlive.”