Diary of the Dead (2008) Film Review

Diary of the Dead PosterStarring: Joshua Close, Michelle Morgan, Chris Violette, Phillip Riccio

Written & Directed By: George A. Romero

Grade: D

George A. Romero, father of the zombie sub-genre of horror, gives us another tale of the living dead. Rather than continuing the dead series story, he chose to start over from the beginning, already having the sequel to Diary of the Dead lined up. Unless the film takes a very different approach from this one, I am sorry to say that that the sequel is most likely not a good thing. Diary of the Dead loses a lot of the story and even the audience along the way. It is more of a platform simply lecturing us about the falsity of the media and even our dire need for technology.

A group of film students including Deb (Morgan) and the director of the project, Jason Creed (Close) are filming a mummy based zombie film, but it doesn’t take long for things to go wrong and in a far worse manner than your typical filming problems. They hear a newscast claiming that many dead bodies came back to life and started attacking everyone in sight. At first Jason in particular doesn’t even believe this, claiming that the news is pure fiction, far from the real truth. Just the possibility that this could be true and just how unprepared they would be scares most of them enough to expect the worst; that zombies will be coming to attack them soon. Ridley, one of the actors in the student film that was being made, is the first to decide he needs to get out of there quick. He realizes that he may not be safe anywhere, but he decides that if he is going to die he would rather do it in the comfort of his nice, cushy home rather than out in the mucky, gloomy woods and only one other person decides to take his lead. Deb is more concerned with her family, especially after they aren’t answering the home phone.

The group all goes with Deb to her home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Along the way, they are dodging zombies everywhere as everything seems deserted aside from these dangerous creatures. As they make the trip more and more of them seem to be dying off as Jason continues filming every step of the way, refusing to set his camera down even to help save his friends lives. In the process though, he might end up putting others in greater danger and perhaps even himself.

Diary of the Dead Film Crew

The acting in the film wasn’t very impressive. Michelle Morgan reminded me a lot of Eliza Dushku, but she just didn’t give that same fierce, emotional quality that you often get with her. Morgan’s performance, just like many of the others in the film, suffered from overacting. No one seemed realistic, which took away from the film a lot. Joshua Close was guilty of this too, but at least his superficiality was covered up a bit more with a more subtle and less exaggerated approach. Phillip Riccio managed to do better than most as the rich student actor, but that is just because he was lucky enough not to be in as many of the overdone scenes that concentrate more on cameras than the violence around them. This is a constant theme in the film, critiquing the people in the situation and how they act.

To be fair, the actors in the film really didn’t have much to work with. The script and dialogue were very poor, making the characters not seem like people, but merely puppets to display a message. This message is notable and works in some moments though. The film is an attack on the media. It portrays the media to have little to no truth. There is also the aspect of putting this before peoples lives, shown through Jason as well as others who are filming these horrors that are happening. They are watching people die rather than putting down the camera and saving lives. There is a certain point where the instinct for survival has to kick in. One of the better critiques in the movie is that of the government. Some of the characters keep on telling themselves that the national guard will come and magically fix everything. They come across one of the national guard members who is only concerned with protecting his supplies. The others have just become corrupted, selfishly stealing and threatening the well-being of anyone who has what they desire.

George Romero's Diary Of The Dead

The characters overall weren’t terrible, particularly some of the main characters seemed to have some good qualities to them. Deb’s reactions are justified as she is trying to get Jason to put his camera down for the survival of both of them. Jason isn’t all that unbelievable of a character as there probably are some who might act in a similar way, especially if their goal in life is to expose truth through the camera lens. There were a few characters who were painfully stereotypical though. The the “rednecks” at the end fall in to this category. They are shown targeting zombies, letting them hang and squirm while they shoot them, not for survival, but for fun. These characters aren’t even given any lines and are just shown as crazy, immoral red necks who are more animalistic than the zombies that have turned society inside out. Romero does this to show that we are not even worth saving, but it was just handled in such a poor manner that these characters don’t even serve as a good representation of humans.

The major problem with the film is it is far too preachy, taking away the zombie story, any potential scares and fun vibrant atmosphere it could have shown. The characters, story, and performances hold it back as well. 90% of the dialogue is just about the camera and media not being truthful. I get the point and it is really impossible not to understand this with how much it is constantly repeated. There is even narration through the entire film, dictating what we should think even though it is blatantly obvious the message Romero wants us to see as it is thrown at us in every possible way. This just about takes away the zombie film and just makes it a pure criticism that could be summed up in a far shorter amount of time.

Diary of the Dead Still

I have no problem with using a zombie film to get out a political or societal message, in fact I encourage it. It is actually far more creative and artistic and possibly even more meaningful to use horror to use a voice for the better; to reach people, using compelling characters and a pivotal story. There is nothing artistic about Romero shouting his beliefs at us every chance he gets, forgetting about the art of filmmaking. I am saying this as someone who agrees with most of the beliefs he voiced in the film and overall am a huge fan of the groundbreaking work he has done. George A. Romero is the master of zombie films and has metaphorically and creatively created many films to illustrate the horror of what humans can become in drastic enough of circumstances. Romero has shown that ultimately survival is up to how well you handle and can cope with the chaos. He did this particularly well through the film that started the series, Night of the Living Dead. We all know that Romero was more than capable of doing the same with his desire for truth that he feels the media is keeping from us in times when we need to hear it the most as well as the corrupt and vicious tendencies that the government display. For one reason or another, Romero didn’t do this with any tact, skill, or personal creative voice, ruining the quality and potential that the film should have risen to.

Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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