Ok, let’s just get this out of the way first.

I love George Romero. I really do. I think he’s hands down one of the nicest & sweetest human beings you’re bound to ever meet, and if you’ve been lucky enough to catch the man at either a convention appearance or a Q & A event, then you’ll most likely agree with me.

I also love all his movies. Yep. All of ‘em. I really did like LAND OF THE DEAD, and saw it by myself the day it opened, first screening straight after work. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but DAY OF THE DEAD is still (and always will be) my favorite among his “living dead” quadrilogy.

I was beyond excited at the prospect of Romero returning to his “indie” roots to reboot the “living dead” franchise with his bold attempt at “ cinéma-vérité”. Hell, it’s Romero! It’s zombies! It’s independent! What could go wrong?

Plain and simply… this movie just doesn’t work on any level for me. And trust me, no one is more heartbroken by this then I am. I wanted to go in and just enjoy this movie for whatever it was supposed to be. But there comes a point where you decide you can’t let it slide just because it’s a Romero “zombie” movie.

Before I get into the story, let me explain the film’s biggest problem. With all of Romero’s films, especially his “living dead” ones, there’s a certain level of social commentary; opinions from the man himself sprinkled into our tale, often in a very subtle way and never taking away from the movie’s actual story. He admitted in the Q & A that followed this particular screening that his ideas usually start with a theme, something he wants to say, and then he builds a story around that.

Actual quote - “Story isn’t all that important! You can come up with 50 stories once you get a theme going.” The problem with DIARY is that it’s ALL commentary and NO story. It’s everything that’s wrong with the world according to George, repeated multiple times, beating you over the head with each message, and even borrowing from the messages of his previous films. (Yes, we yet again get the quote “We’re them and they’re us.”)

Here’s what I could make of the story that was there. The film opens with an unedited news report showing what appears to be a routine murder/suicide at a run down apartment complex. But what the camera ends up capturing is the first live account of the deceased returning from the dead and feeding on the living. We then cut to our main core group of characters, a handful of film students led by director Jason Creed (Joshua Close), who’s working on his “mummy” movie THE DEATH OF DEATH. Midway through their late night shoot, reports start coming in over the radio and TV that the dead are returning to life and feeding off the living.

Gotta be a hoax, right? What should the crew do? Well, Jason decides it’s his responsibility to document everything that’s happening and film the events going on around him as they transpire. (Hence, explaining why the movie is all from camcorder footage.) I totally understand that this is the clever device that’s supposed to put us full-on into the movie, but quite frankly, it’s also its biggest downfall. (More on that in a minute.)

It is very difficult to relate with this character when he’d rather film what’s going on as opposed to helping another human being from being killed. Half way through, he has to stop to upload his footage onto his My Space page. (No shit! Really!) And is excited by the prospect that his video gets 72,000 hits in the span of an hour. (He doesn’t really care about his family’s well being like his girlfriend does. Or… the fact that there might not be anyone left to see his damned movie soon enough.)

There’s only one character I fell in love with almost immediately after being introduced to him and that’s Samuel. I don’t want to give too much away about him, but once they properly introduced him, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, because he’s a trademark Romero character; someone who you don’t expect to kick ass and be awesome but totally is. (The unlikely hero, much like Charlie is in LAND OF THE DEAD.) But alas, he’s not one of these snotty film student kids, so he’s only in the movie briefly. We continue to be stuck with characters we don’t like.

While Samuel’s introduction was somewhat comical, that’s another problem with this flick. It doesn’t know exactly what it should be. Often times, Romero opts to go with a joke and not take it too seriously. (And when I mean “joke”, I mean everything from Jason complaining that the mummy is moving too fast – “Dead people aren’t supposed to be able to run!” to mimicking that same scene later but for the purpose of an intentional laugh.) Hey, I love a good gag as much as the next fiend, but not when it’s mis-balanced through-out the entire movie as obviously as it is here.
With the horrific events going on during the course of this picture, why couldn’t the characters, Romero and the audience take this seriously?! If this was really happening, wouldn’t you be terrified? Would you be filming? You’d be running your ass off, looking for your family and friends! Again, you can’t possibly take it seriously when Debra (Jason’s girlfriend) happens along and says, “Hey! Look what I found, another camcorder!”

I understand that the whole point of the film was the way the story was going to be told; via camcorder footage, surveillance tape and You Tube videos. But Debra narrates the movie. She’s edited it in advance for us, and we don’t have much “shaky-cam”, it’s filmed pretty close to how a movie would be.

I’m sure Romero, as a filmmaker probably had a blast figuring out ways to play out long scenes in one continuous shot. (And kudos to BRUISER cinematographer Adam Swica for his work here.) But if you’re going to have a whole movie be from “found footage”, then it better be freakin’ brilliantly executed, at least like the way it was done in CLOVERFIELD. (Which I totally still stand by.) Had this movie not taken the “ cinéma-vérité” route and just been a straight forward narrative film, I probably would’ve enjoyed it a lot better! It’s just hard to forgive bad acting, terrible character decisions (most of which were unbelievable) and even worse, non-serious dialogue from unlikable characters when the movie itself doesn’t take them at all seriously.

My buddy Jay asked, “But… is it maybe supposed to be like a bad student film on purpose?” No. Even if that was what Romero was attempting, then he wouldn’t have put SO much over-bearing commentary and comedy into it. Film students making bad “zombie” movies aren’t smart enough to add this much commentary. (And sadly, I know a few that actually do exist.)
What about the “zombies”? Well, yes, there were a few cool “zombie” kills, but unfortunately, every one of them employed slight CGI enhancements. And none of them were really memorable as the ghouls often are in other Romero movies. (I did like Greg Nicotero’s cameo as the Doctor “zombie” in the hospital.) There’s one kill in particular which got a cheer from the audience, but that left me speechless, because it was by far the silliest, most unrealistic way a person would choose to off themselves, given the opportunity. Just because there’s a few good, creative kills doesn’t mean the movie as a whole is good.

Again, I’m really saddened that I couldn’t force myself to like this a bit more, but it’s just not a very good movie. This flick doesn’t take away from my love and enjoyment of George’s other features. But it’s also probably the only film in his entire filmography that I don’t care to add to my DVD collection or ever watch again. That’s how disappointed I was! (Sorry to say.) I really hope that he blows me away with his next flick, whatever it may be. I just hope it’s NOT a sequel to this. –Robg.

FIRST LOOK: DIARY OF THE DEAD (Phil Fasso's review)

In 1968, George Romero changed the way in which horror movies were made with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In 1978 came the DAWN, a subversive attack on consumerism. In 1985 came the worst DAY horror has ever known, as Romero attacked the Reagan generation. It was 20 years before George was able to bring us to the LAND, a movie about dealing with the dead. And then, a mere two years later, George Romero decided to bring us another Dead movie, closing the book on his Dead saga, and rebooting it for a new generation. DIARY OF THE DEAD is the result, and already I can say this new direction does not bode well for Romero fans.

Let's face it. This is not your father's Living Dead movie. The whole approach of having characters in the movie filming what will end up being DIARY is a new slant. As with LAND, this is a road movie more than a "stuck in the house/mall/underground military facility" film.

The special effects rely a little more on CGI than in LAND, but they work well here. They're not overused, and thus the emphasis is still on the excellent special makeup effects of Greg Nicotero. What surprised me most about DIARY, though, is the lack of a strong black protagonist among the group. From Ben up through Big Daddy, Romero has always cast a black in a prominent role in his Dead films. Except for a brief segment with a group of militarists who've taken over a town, the casting is all white. I guess Romero really was looking to distance himself from the rest of the Dead saga.

As for the hand held approach, I didn't mind it so much. There was very little shaky cam, so I doubt people will get sick, as I heard reports of with CLOVERFIELD's audiences. Adding a second camera early on gave it a nice twist, and employing security cameras in a mansion later in the film was a nice touch. The filmmaker as documentarian of atrocious events connects this to the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and dates all the way back to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST in 1980. Though I don't really dig this technique so much, it worked here.

Unfortunately, that was just about all that worked in the movie. As a huge fan of Romero's Dead saga, I found DIARY to be too far a turn away from the rest of the franchise. And if this is the direction in which the Dead films are going, I not only doubt that the movies will ever be considered classics as NIGHT and DAWN are; I doubt I'll even like any of them.

Romero's first mistake was to put the movie into the hands of teenagers. The first 4 Dead films all focused on adults, thus sparing me from the expendable 80's hack and slash disposable teens. This film, however, focuses on a small group of college students, and unfortunately has some of the worst acting I've ever seen in a Romero movie. Joe Pilato's screaming fury in DAY OF THE DEAD seems like a refined piece of work when compared with the rank amateurs in DIARY.

I understand Romero has always had a preference for using small time actors, some of whom weren't even professionals by trade. But the cast here is dreadful. And at least the other movies gave me likeable characters to root for. These teens were a bunch of unlikeable jerks, slackers with which I could not associate at all.

The only character I liked was the professor. This may be a personal bias because of my experience as a teacher. Or it may be just be because he wasn't so over the top, as the rest of the cast was.

And why was there so many jokes in this movie? Okay, I get it, George. You don't like fast zombies. You've been apologizing for Barbara falling down in NIGHT for years. Do I really need hokey lines of dialogue referencing these things? And of all things, a deaf Amish man? I've always thought the pie fight with Savini running around with his squirt bottle in DAWN dragged down any idea of zombies being scary. That was subtle by comparison with the in your face humor of DIARY.

By far the worst thing about DIARY, though, is how preachy it is. The first four Dead films were fraught with social commentary; they attacked racism, the Vietnam War, consumerism, Reaganomics, militarism, the W. era, government and other topics. Romero's social critiques always involved a subtlety in those films. The message was there, strongly, but he never thrust it into the audience's collective faces. DIARY takes a more overstated approach. Yes, it acts as a subversive shot at the You Tube generation, but it does so with the bluntness of a sledgehammer.

For instance: How many separate instances do I need in which Jason, the director, chooses to preserve the camera shot instead of saving his girlfriend? How many times does she need to remind him of his earlier statement that everything needs to be recorded? Making matters even worse is her voice over. Most of her comments are redundant; she's just commenting on what the film is showing me. In fact, she negates her own point: by pasting her comments onto the footage, she's making it all about her. She may as well post these comments on My Space... where Romero has a site for DIARY, oddly enough.

With DIARY OF THE DEAD, Romero says he is rebooting the Dead saga. Given the film he made, it is obvious that he's rebooting it for the My Space generation, forsaking fans that have, over decades, worshipped him for his vision. It's also obvious that DIARY is a bad start, a movie not worthy to be in the Romero catalogue. Let this review work as a document of that. -Phil Fasso


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