- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

George A. Romero takes his horror legacy to its illogical extremes with “Diary of the Dead,” an ambitious attempt to view zombies through the prism of our 24/7 media world.

However, while Mr. Romero’s past zombie romps blurred the line between horror and polemics, “Diary” shoves its opinions down our throats.

It also commits a bigger sin: It just isn’t scary.

“Diary,” shot on a microbudget, isn’t a sequel to 2005’s “Land of the Dead.” Instead, it revisits the franchise’s first day, when dead people began waking up.

“Diary” unfolds as a documentary cobbled together from multiple “found” sources, including news clips, music and other video. The format is less constricting than, say, that of “Cloverfield” with its single-source footage.

News of the dead coming back to life interrupts some University of Pittsburgh film students shooting a mummy feature. The unsettling radio reports persuade them to take a road trip across Pennsylvania to reunite a member of their film crew, Debra (Michelle Morgan), with her family.

The group’s director (Joshua Close) takes camera in hand to record their journey, much to the chagrin of his fellow film students. They have enough on their minds without having to deal with a camera in their faces.

Their ride is interrupted repeatedly, first by zombies walking in the road and later by slightly less deadly foes, like the U.S. military.

Along the way, Mr. Romero thumbs his nose at the media (which here deliberately stage events to mislead the public) as well as our obsession with being on camera at all costs. I suppose it’s commendable for an older director like Mr. Romero to be so up to date culturally, but he’s far too obvious about his agenda — anyone who misses his bullet points need only wait for the documentary’s narrator to spoon-feed us the bigger picture.

Mr. Romero hasn’t completely lost his grip on what makes zombie films so engrossing. The early scene in which horrified emergency medical technicians watch corpses rise up from their gurneys is chilling, and on more than one occasion — for example, a sequence involving a mute Amish farmer — the director’s sense of humor comes in handy.

Too bad the farmer is the only character worth caring about. Rarely does a horror film stack a cast with less relatable figures. Only a pretentious professor (Scott Wentworth) who knows his way around a bow and arrow leaves an impression.

Realism isn’t mandatory for creature features, but “Diary” gets a mixed grade on disbelief suspension. Kudos for showing the student director recharging his camera’s batteries (those “Blair Witch” kids must have worked with a renewable energy source). But other visual stunts later in the film, like splicing in video taken from a mansion’s security cameras, shatter the “found footage” format.

“Diary of the Dead” labors to provide food for thought, but the arguments are as obvious as the nose falling off a zombie’s face.


TITLE: “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead”

RATING: R (Adult language, violence, gore and graphic imagery)

CREDITS: Written and directed by George A. Romero

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

WEB SITE: www.myspace.com /diaryofthedead


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