DIARY OF THE DEAD (aka: GEORGE A ROMERO’S DIARY OF THE DEAD)(director/writer: George A Romero; cinematographer: Adam Swica; editor: Michael Doherty; music: Norman Orenstein; cast: Michelle Morgan (Debra), Josh Close (Jason Creed), Shawn Roberts (Tony), Amy Lalonde (Tracy), Joe Dinicol (Eliot), Scott Wentworth (Maxwell), Philip Riccio (Ridley), (Gordo), Tatiana Maslany (Mary), Megan Park (Francine); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Peter Grunwald/Artur Spigel/Sam Englebardt/Ara Katz; Dimension Home Entertainment; 2007)
“A sly but low-level zombie movie for the YouTube crowd.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A sly but low-level zombie movie for the YouTube crowd. Legendary zombie cult filmmaker George A Romero (“Bruiser”/”Land of the Dead”/”Night of the Living Dead”) has run into a dead-end in his ongoing zombie series with this not scary, not humorous and rather tiresome teen-survival flick. To its detriment, it follows in a mockingly perverse way along the blurry trail of “The Blair Witch Project.” Its shot as a mockumentary, and ends up as a ridiculous didactic lecture on the ethics of journalism, the over dependence on technology by the younger generation and the failures of humanity to make a better and safer world (a sociopolitical subtext that’s skin deep).
Compulsive Pitt college filmmaker Jason Creed (Josh Close) is shooting on a handheld digital camera a mummy film for his class project in the Pennsylvania woods with his other callow film school students, when he learns there’s a zombie crisis through a bootleg video and the radio. Self-centered lead student actor Ridley (Philip Riccio) immediately splits in his expensive sports car for the safety of his family mansion with only Francine (Megan Park) accepting his invite. The remaining film crew will soon retreat from the rampaging zombies in a battered Winnebago hoping to reach the safety of their homes, but find there’s a breakdown in communication as their homes as well the roads are no longer safe havens. Those on the run include Jason’s always pissed off g.f. Debra (Michelle Morgan); the angry Queens native Tony (Shawn Roberts); San Antonio sweetie pie Tracy (Amy Lalonde) and her boyfriend Gordo (Chris Violette); the suicidal and timid RV driver Mary (Tatiana Maslany); tech geek Eliot (Joe Dinicol); and the cynically self-hating alcoholic Brit prof named Maxwell (Scott Wentworth).
Narrator Debra tells us that she finished editing Jason’s film and that the footage is the real deal, though she cut it and added music and sound effects to scare you. The footage shows how the crew at first make an unsuccessful hasty retreat for Debra’s house in Scranton, where they encounter such things as a rural hospital suffering from a zombie attack, a resourceful Amish farmer dealing with tragedy by turning in his pacifism for some bomb-throwing, a renegade bunch of National Guardsmen looters, an angry and heavily armed black survivalist and, finally, the arrival of the crew at Ridley’s supposed fortress-like mansion for more fun and games with the unstoppable zombies (unless you blow off their head).
The shaky film we are watching, of “found footage,” repeatedly asks us what’s a documentarian’s obligation to those he’s filming, as we view the carnage and observe that the filmmaker kept shooting and sticking a camera in everyone’s face but never helped those who were in trouble. The filmmaker says it was important that he document these incidents for history.
What emerges is a self-assured but heavy-handed update on the zombie series, that distances itself further from the viewer with its ponderous voiceover, hammy acting and its facile attempts at being intellectually relevant for today’s youthful market with an unsubtle visualization of the new American nightmare (young people who look but can’t see that they’re targets). It’s as one narcissistic character says with a straight face, “If it’s not on camera, it doesn’t exist.”
REVIEWED ON 7/17/2009 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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