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Posted: Feb 15 2008, 11:18 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 10-May 06
Diary of the Dead: George Romero's bleakest zombie movie yet. - Slate
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead - Washington Post
GEORGE A. ROMERO’S Diary of the Dead
In “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead,” the loosest, goosiest chapter in the filmmaker’s continuing zombieland epic, we meet the enemy and he is us, with video cameras.
Set in Mr. Romero’s usual Pennsylvania stomping and chomping grounds (a k a Canada), the story pivots on a clutch of University of Pittsburgh students who, in the process of fleeing legions of the undead — despite their obvious handicap, zombies always find fresh meat — have taken up cameras, thus becoming the producers of their own snuff biopic.
If this sounds a little like “Cloverfield” it is, superficially, though “Diary” is a lot cheaper-looking, generally smarter-sounding and a whole lot funnier.
Its lead characters — played by Michelle Morgan, Josh Close and seven other serviceable actors I’ve never heard of — run and strategize, point and shoot, and not just cameras.
They flee from doom, not toward it. They’re real and prickly and all too human, and their mistakes feel true to life rather than a consequence of bad writing.
One guy even plugs his camera into the wall when the juice runs low. They’re trying to make it out of zombieland alive, not knowing, as we do — take another look at the movie’s title — that the guy running this show thinks they are already dead.
Yeah, the kids are not all right, says Mr. Romero, and here’s the lowdown on the meltdown. It’s those blasted cameras, those infernal machines, the blinking screens and humming monitors that we run 24/7 and are now running us, shutting us off from the real world (whatever that is).
To be honest, I kind of agree, but agreeing philosophically with a movie doesn’t make it any good, particularly when that movie insists — as this one does — on hammering home the obvious point again and again.
There’s some striking filmmaking in “Diary of the Dead,” but there’s also a lot of less-than-elegant speechifying. Having already scared the stuffing out of us with his past films, Uncle George has decided it’s time for a good talk.
Some of that talk does tickle the funny bone, as when a couple of the characters — film students shooting a girl-meets-mummy cheapie — engage in some metacriticism and argue whether the dead are supposed to move fast or slow.
Mr. Romero, who inaugurated the era of the modern zombie with his 1968 masterpiece “Night of the Living Dead,” maintains that the undead should shuffle through this mortal coil, not race, as they do in some recent flicks. His purism has its point.
Zippy zombies are frightening less because they’re dead (and hungry), but because their speed — particularly when combined with fast editing and agitated camera moves — affects you on a visceral level. The filmmaking gets into your body; Mr. Romero also wants to get into your head.
But the body has its needs, and one of the problems with “Diary of the Dead” is that it doesn’t get into your body; it doesn’t shake you up, jolt you, make you shiver and squeak.
It’s clever, or at least clever enough to keep you going and interested from start to finish. It just isn’t scary. Paradoxically, the movie’s self-reflexive conceit — that you’re watching what the characters are supposedly shooting — works against its fear factor.
Because most of the characters wielding the cameras happen to be film students, the images are somewhat finessed (and edited). But because most of the images are also meant to resemble nonprofessional visuals — there’s some surveillance material too — they’re not just drab, they’re also stale.
What looked fresh in 1998 in Thomas Vinterberg’s “Celebration,” which was shot with a hand-held digital video camera and has the feel of a home movie, now looks tired, wrung out.
The reason has nothing to do with video or hand-held cinematography, but with the idiom of amateurism, with a visual style that swaps artistry for a spurious authenticity.
“Diary of the Dead” is supposed to look as if it had been shot by some freaked-out college kids who are as securely tethered to their video and cellphone cameras as a fetus is to its umbilical cord. And because their experience of the world is largely defined by mediated images, they turn their lives and deaths into a spectacle, just not a very exciting one.
There’s always been a political edge to Mr. Romero’s zombieland epic, which he began during the civil rights and Vietnam era and is now using to engage with the contemporary American scene.
“Cloverfield” trades on the iconography of Sept. 11, turning familiar images of billowing smoke and swirling paper into virtuosic production design.
By contrast, in “Diary of the Dead” Mr. Romero pokes and prods and awkwardly struggles with some aftershocks of that day, specifically, what happens when a culture — particularly one gripped by fear — is overrun with images, particularly atrocity images, that ostensibly numb and dumb down that culture by blurring the real and the unreal, true life and its canned image.
Never mind that movies are part of the mix and that the movies lie too, sometimes beautifully.