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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

George Romero's Diary of the Dead

George Romero's Diary of the Dead, Romero's fifth installment in his Dead series, is more giggle-inducing satire than powerful horror picture. In fact, I laughed so hard in the theatre that I embarrassed the person I was with ("hey, hey, it's not THAT funny," "YES IT IS!! AH HA HA HA HA!"). The film starts with a group of University of Pittsburgh film students (a cast of relative unknowns) making a horror movie in the woods. The director is doing it for a class project, but he really wants to be a documentary filmmaker. As it turns out, he gets to be both when the Pennsylvania countryside is overrun by flesh eating zombies. The film crew drives across the state in a large RV, braving militias, national guards gone awol and, of course, the sauntering jaundiced undead.

Diary of the Dead manages to borrow the best elements of all the other Dead flicks: the satirical tone of the original Dawn of the Dead, the eerie countryside setting and racial commentary of Night of the Living Dead and the criticism of military and policial machinations seen in Day of the Dead. Diary of the Dead really tackles the topic of mass media, however, focusing on the political power of bloggers/youtubers and touting both the value and detriment of technology in an apocolyptic setting. Like Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead is shot on hand-held digital. Romero mixes it up, however, using second and third cameras (after all, this is a film crew lost in the woods, not just one guy with a camera phone) as well as video surveillance systems to switch up the angles and persepectives. Hitchcock pointed out that suspense often hinges on the audience knowing something that the stars do not, and the use of the surveillance cameras really utilizes that concept for maximum results. Romero's approach provides 1st, 2nd and 3rd person points of view, allowing the audience the greatest amount of suspense while simultaneously commenting on the ubiquity of video coverage in modern culture.

There is one big problem with Diary of the Dead that keeps it from being great: its tone vacillates between horror and comedy in an incongruous and unintegrated way. Perhaps if Romero had just thrown himself into making a comedy (like Robert Rodriguez in his film Planet Terror) it would have worked. Scenes like the mute Amish farm killing zombies with a sickle, or the zombie in a mummy costume, or the undead family swimming in the pool...these are pure comedy. Rather than sticking with laughs and social satire, however, Romero throws in an annoying "I told you so" expositive narration that feels very forced and tacked on. Had Romero focused more on the horror aspects with a few moments of comedy sprinkled it it could have also been great. Unfortunately, Romero just doesn't seem to achieve the balance of comedy in Diary of the Dead that he managed in Dawn of the Dead or The Crazies. Still, Diary of the Dead is worth checking out at your local indie theatre, if only for the chance to see an Amish farmer kill undead motorists with a pitchfork.

The amount I would pay to see this movie: $6.50


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