Diary of the Dead
May 19, 2008
After taking his informal series of zombie films to their logical conclusion with Land of the Dead (2005), George A. Romero has come full circle by returning to his low-budget, guerrilla-style filmmaking. With Diary of the Dead (2007), he has started a new cycle of zombie films with a new epidemic of rampaging of zombies – think Night of the Living Dead (1968) for the Youtube generation with a verite found-footage-style like Cloverfield (2008), which came out after Romero’s film.
This time out, we follow a small group of college students making a horror film (with the typically pretentious title, The Death of Death) about a mummy on the loose. Late one night, they catch a news broadcast on the radio reporting several incidents of the dead coming back to life to feast on the living. Jason, the director (Close), goes to his girlfriend Deb’s (Morgan) dorm room where she has been monitoring the epidemic on the Internet. Sensing that they are experiencing a significant historical event, Jason decides to document things as they happen with his friends and crew members tagging along for the ride. Predictably, everything goes all to hell as societal order breaks down.
Romero’s political and social commentary remains as strong as ever as the news footage our protagonists watch on television and the Internet eerily echoes that of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina complete with government officials blithely assuring us that they have the situation under control. Diary of the Dead also comments on our culture’s desire to document everything for dissemination on the Internet. It has become the quickest way to obtain information and to pass it on to others all over the world.
Romero has also embraced this new technology with a vengeance by having his film students use digital cameras that are easily accessible and in turn allows the veteran filmmaker to return to the independent roots of his first film, Night of the Living Dead while adopting the first-person perspective of The Blair Witch Project (1999) mixed with the multimedia approach to acquiring information of Brian De Palma’s Redacted (2007).
Romero’s cheeky sense of humour is thankfully still there to prevent the bleak horror of what is happening from overwhelming the film and so, for example, Jason and his friends encounter a dynamite-throwing Amish man. It also wouldn’t be a Romero film without the creative zombie deaths – one by defibrillator and another with hydrochloric acid.
More interestingly, Romero shows how what we see is being manipulated – by the government and by Jason who edits his film before posting it on his Myspace page in order to get the maximum amount of hits or visitors checking out his site. Diary of the Dead wisely points out that if something like this happened people wouldn’t look for answers in traditional media, they would look to the Internet. After the relatively big budget, studio-backed Land of the Dead, it’s nice to see Romero going back to his humble, low-budget roots while still managing to stay relevant.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director George A. Romero, director of photography Adam Swica, and editor Michael Doherty. They kick things off, rather fittingly, with how they pulled off the challenging prologue sequence. Romero points out that most of the cast were stage actors and this allowed the filmmakers to shoot fast and a lot of pages in a day. Romero frequently mentions the creative freedom he had on this film. Most of the time is spent talking about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking on this informative track.
“Character Confessionals” features several characters from the film talking about themselves for Jason’s documentary within the film. However, they then to ramble on about trivial details that quickly becomes tiresome.
“The First Week” takes a brief look at the first week of principal photography with some nice footage on location with intentionally cheesy, cheerful music.
“The Roots” has Romero giving a quick introduction about what inspired this film and how it differs from his other zombie films.
“Familiar Voices” identifies three of famous friends of Romero that lent their voices to the various newscasts in the background of scenes.
“For the Record” consists of five featurettes documenting the making of the film. There is a nice profile of Romero where the cast and crew praise him. To his credit, the veteran filmmaker is his usual, charming self. The members of the cast are interviewed and talk about working with Romero and about their characters. Legendary make-up artist Gregory Nicotero takes us through the film’s gore effects and how they did them. Some of these effects were enhanced digitally as the next featurette demonstrates. Finally, there is a look at the film’s hand-held camerawork and the production design.
“Myspace Contest Winners” features the five short films that won the Myspace contest. They are all pretty good, including one done by Teller of Penn and Teller fame.