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Dear Diary of the Dead

My first TIFF07 screening is George Romero’s independently-produced return to the “little” zombie movie. (Incidentally, “little” is the adjective for “movie”; these are not gonna be midget zombies.) In advance of the screening, I know only a little about Diary of the Dead. Films in the horror genre are ones that I prefer to approach as “blind” as possible. What I do know is that it employs a plot device similar to that of The Blair Witch Project (and–as it occurred to me while I was watching it–the upcoming JJ Abrams-produced monster movie which may or may not be called Cloverfield): it’s all shot first-person by people who are living through the events depicted. (And here’s a word of warning–if you are susceptible to nausea caused by herky-jerky hand-held camera-work, take a seat towards the back for this one.) The other thing I know about this film is that Romero is going back to square one, zombie-lore-wise. Unlike, say, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, this one takes us back to Night of the Living Dead, when the existence of the walking dead was new and mysterious and not a fait accompli within the world of the film.

Your toughest assignment, if you choose to see this film and are as familiar with film zombie lore as I am, will be to forget as much as you can before the opening credits roll. If you can take your mind back to the first time you ever saw Night of the Living Dead, that would be perfect. And this goes straight out to you, Constant Reader ZombieKillah: these are Romero zombies. They are not quick like bunnies. They shamble. They lurch. They flail. You can outrun the fuckers if they don’t catch you unawares and chew a hole in your neck before you even know what’s happening and what the hell that awful stench is. (There are more than a few inside-jokey references within the film about how slow these things are, which were appreciated by the audience I was in.)

Basically, this is Night of the Living Dead circa 2007 instead of 1968.  

Because this is a Romero zombie movie, it operates on more than one level. (Think back to the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Was there anything below the surface on that one? Not that I noticed.) Sure, on the surface, it’s about the walking (or, rather, shambling) dead coming you get you, Barbara. But it’s also got something to say about the society in which it takes place. Like it or not, the mediafication (yeah, okay, I made that up–so?) of our society means that many people would rather point a camera at an accident than lend a hand. The urge to exercise those 15 minutes of fame that some wit once said we’d all get means there’s a YouTube, a MySpace, and who doesn’t have a blog? *ahem* While it often feels like we are ruled by the media, the truth is that just about anyone can tell a story to countless people all over the world, thanks to that series of tubes which is bringing you this very review at the moment.

And so, yeah, we have a YouTube and a LiveLeak, a MySpace and a Facebook, reality tv ad nauseum, and ev-er-y-fuck-ing-bod-y has a blog. 😉 When something happens, somebody is there to record it. If a tree falls in the forest, somebody’ll be there to shoot it on D8 and post it on their MySpace site so the whole world can access it. In fact, the film within the film–called The Death of Death–has a MySpace page where it’s being posted as the director cobbles it together (don’t bother searching… it’s not there… I already checked). He is thrilled at the thought of 72000 hits in less than an hour. So where, say, Dawn of the Dead was a satire about consumerism or Land of the Dead tweaked the Bush administration’s collective nose, this one satirizes the media saturation we’re all soaking in.

But it’s also a B-film, so the dialogue gets a little cornball, the performances a little over-the-top, and the special fx are not on the grand scale to which you may have become accustomed. I’m alright with that. Like I said, this is more like teeny-budget Night of the Living Dead than big-budget Land of the Dead. As long as you don’t go in expecting the latter, you’ll be fine.

Honestly, though? I hate to say it, but… meh. I can understand Romero’s urge to go back and start from Go and re-imagine what a zombie plague might be like if it hit in 2007, but I dunno… it felt like the read on our society was a little obvious and heavy-handed, I guess. And the only character I actually cared about in this film was the deaf/mute Amish farmer. That dude fuckin’ rocked.

I prefer his first pass at the tale. They’re coming to get you, ZombieKillah…

→ originally published 2007-09-11

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