Diary of the Dead (2007)

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*. This should have been better.
*. Romero keeps coming up with interesting new social/cultural angles to address in his zombie films, and he does so again here with a tale of media overload run amok. But then so much goes wrong.
*. As I see it, the big problem this time out is that the theme is crudely presented, even for a Romero film (where themes are not subtle). Debra’s voiceover narration hammering away at the moral of the story get to be too much. And Michelle Morgan is so grumpy and preachy as Debra. I could understand her being angry, or shaky, but here she comes across as an unpleasant schoolmarm having a bad day. It’s a poorly written part to be sure, but it had to be played differently to have had any chance of working.
*. Making the heaviness of the movie’s theme even heavier is the portentousness of much of the dialogue. It isn’t realistic at all, but tends to break into dramatic highlights in nearly every scene. The worst offender here is Professor (emeritus) Maxwell, who starts to sound like he’s quoting Shakespeare at times. Imagine being in a zombie film and having to deliver hammy stage lines like “Mornings . . . and mirrors. I despise them. Mornings and mirrors only serve to terrify old men.”
*. Does Debra recognize that Maxwell is performing in the mirror? She likes the lines and asks him to repeat them. This is actually something I wish the movie had gone into a bit more: not so much the business about what happens to the truth when it is mediated, or how our obsession with images is paradoxically part of our craving for more reality in our lives, but the way the camera makes performers of us all.

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*. In fact, I’d say the script throughout is terrible. Even the attempts at humour fall flat. Really flat. When the zombie state trooper comes after them Tony says he’s not interested in their licence and registration. Ho-ho. After Tracy kills the newly risen Gordo we get this from Maxwell: “Poor Gordo, he just flunked out.” That’s awful!
*. The later re-visiting of the first scene, with Tracy being chased through the woods by the now truly undead Ridley, is another example of the script being heavy-handed, obvious, and totally unrealistic all at the same time. Why is Ridley chasing Tracy and not just turning around and going after Jason? How does Jason manage to lose them momentarily? And why doesn’t Ridley put the fucking camera down and help Tracy out?

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*. After an interesting Rec-like prologue we begin, again, with newsreel footage of the world falling to pieces. Rioting in the streets, martial law, etc. Was 28 Days Later the first of the zombie films to do this?
*. Speaking of Rec, I originally thought Romero was operating under the influence of that film here. It’s not just the POV filmmaking, but that opening scene with the news crew, the later scene with the team of police or national guardsmen clearing out the apartment building, and even the finale with Jason dropping his camera and being dragged along the floor away from it. But since Rec came out the same year, and it isn’t mentioned by Romero at all on the commentary, I guess this was all coincidence.
*. We may look back at 2007 as the year of peak zombie. Not only did this movie and Rec come out but we also got 28 Weeks Later and I Am Legend, both of which were big budget releases.
*. Arrows would be an almost completely useless weapon against zombies, especially a longbow in close quarters. They certainly don’t have the power to knock a victim off their feet like they do poor Billy, and pin them to the wall.

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*. The documentary frame doesn’t work for me. The motivation of Jason is OK, but then he screws it up by asking stupid non-documentary questions like Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? I don’t think many documentary filmmakers indulge in such questions, and they seem particularly out-of-place here.
*. Romero isn’t keen on having a lot of sex and romance in his zombie films, which is fine most of the time but also can be seen as evasive. Much as I despise the ending of 28 Days Later, it’s actually one of the few zombie apocalypse films to take seriously the idea that gangs of male survivors will be highly interested in any attractive young women they come across.
*. That said, how does Tracy, with corset-induced cleavage on full display, avoid being targeted either in the warehouse or by the rogue national guardsmen? I did notice how she self-consciously tries to cover up in the one warehouse scene, but beyond this gesture nothing further is indicated. I’m not sure how realistic this is. Somebody would be hitting on her.
*. Debra can’t remember the three-digit code for the security system at her house?
*. The gore here is mostly CGI, out of necessity. They were on a tight schedule, and shooting this way (POV, long takes) made it harder to work in things like squibs and special prosthetic effects. It’s much easier to add that stuff later.
*. The absence of practical effects and the use of long takes make this a very un-Romeroish zombie movie. By now we’ve come to expect at least one zombie banquet scene, and we know he’s a director who likes to cut a lot. So I give him credit for an impressive late-career change of direction. The man is nothing if not adaptable to the new technologies and forms of storytelling. What’s missing is a more relaxed, gentler, satiric approach. Romero has confessed he doesn’t take zombies that seriously, which is fine. But he needed to channel some of that insouciance into the rest of the movie.

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