Here is a review I wrote of the film when I caught it in the theater a couple of months back. I had posted it on here, in the BAD movies section but am unable to find the link at this time. Here is the review from my own personal archives with a good bit of profanity edited out.
Diary Of The Dead
"Dead Doctor, Dead Nurse....Makes Sense"
There are few films I've seen as many times as George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead and his 70s zombie masterpiece, Dawn Of The Dead. Anyone who knows me knows that I almost worship the ground that Romero walks on. His zombie films have never been only about the dead getting up and terrorizing the living; they have always contained a healthy dose of social commentary. Night highlighted the 60s racial struggle between the blacks and whites. Dawn was at it's core about the class struggle in Amercia in the 70s.
Day Of The Dead has always been for me, his first true misstep. The film has gotten better for me over uncountable viewings but it just doesn't hold the passion nor subtext of Romero's previous entries into his Dead series of films. I think he tried to put in a message in there somewhere. Possibly something about the evil of the military? The evil of isolationism as a country? Hell if I know.
20 years go by and Romero decides to jump back into the Dead films as Hollywood seemed to have a thing for zombie films at the time. The end result was Land Of The Dead, a film that I had been looking forward to since the late 90s when I had a chance to read the script (at the time titled Twilight Of The Dead). The film, while not as good as Night or Dawn, was pretty damn decent. I could have done without the side story about the arsenal on wheels titled Dead Reckoning and would have liked more of a focus on the zombies, but the film still worked. Romero went back to his roots and added a huge amount of subtext here. Zombies are terrorists, the leader of Fiddler's Green is the equivalent of George W. Bush, etc.
Now, just a few years later, Romero is back with another Dead film. But, wait....it's not really a Dead film. Romero has made it very clear that the film is not a sequel by any means. No, this film is Romero's way of going back and starting a new series of zombie films. It's his way of recreating what he did so damn well in the past.
The film FINALLY started playing in my area over the weekend. I caught a matinée of the film yesterday. So, how did it hold up? Was it good? Is Romero back on the top of his game?
Let me answer those before I go into a review:
1. Not too well.
2. No, not really.
Romero decided against a normal shooting style with Diary Of The Dead. Instead he opted for a first person point of view. At least one character is filming within the film at any given time and what you are actually watching is their footage. See, this would have been a fantastic idea years ago if there hadn't already been films such as Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast, Cloverfield, REC, etc. Romero doesn't do as well at this type of approach as the other films listed did. The problem is that it doesn't feel like footage, it feels like a normal film. If the film had actually looked like footage from a regular video camera and the shooting was a bit shaky rather than an occasional jerk here and there, the film would have had a much more sincere feel to it.
Anyway, the plot follows a college student named Jason who is trying to shoot a mummy film with a bunch of classmates for his drunken professor. While in the woods, they hear reports on the radio that the dead are returning back to life and attacking the living. The decide all to hop in their Winnebago and head back to their respective homes all around Pennsylvania.
The bad luck of the crew takes them to a vacated hospital filled with the dead, homes filled with dead family members and in the one humorous scene, an Amish farm owned by the deaf "Samuel" who is one of the best characters I've seen in a Romero film.
I guess I should talk about the one thing that makes zombie films so interesting - the zombies! These are the normal Romero zombies. They shamble, they don't run, and they certainly aren't capable of rational thought as those in Land Of The Dead were. I do have to say that the makeup work here is superb. This is the best that zombies have ever looked in a Romero film. Also, Romero really thought of some unique ways for the zombies to be killed off. All of this being said, the big downfall here is that most of the FX are CGI. Nothing p**ses me off more than seeing CGI where a well skilled FX artist could have used some plaster or latex. I know that Romero was on a budget here but the film could have benefited from having Tom Savini do the effects here or having Nicotero or Berger on set.
Romero must have decided with this film that he needed some more subtext, which I respect, honestly I do. I only wish that his message here would have been much better than what it actually is. There are actually two messages in this film.
1. Media is everywhere. People use Myspace and the internet/cell phones/TV to find out information.
2. When the world ends, blacks will become militant.
Ok, let me go at these one at a time. As for the first one, no s**t Sherlock. People use the internet? People have cell phones!? Jesus Christ, I could not have figured that out for myself! See, the idea of the characters using the internet and other technology for information is a great concept and is believable. I give Romero that. One must consider that when Romero made Night back in '68, people had the radio and TV and that was it. Also, it took information a long time to travel in from area to area while now it is instant. My problem with the technology idea is that Romero shoves it down your throat over and over. He beats the idea to death.
Now, the second point was that the blacks will become militant as soon as they get their chance. I know that Romero is a liberal, so this one seems kind of out of place for me. There is a section of the film where the group of college kids meet up with a militant group of blacks in a small town. They have looted everything in the town and said that they aren't leaving now that "Everyone without suntans are out of town". WTF? Seriously?
The best parts of this film are the portions that really don't have anything to do with the core story. The film opens with a news report that was downloaded from the internet which shows one of the initial zombie attacks which took place in a large city, presumably New York City. It's haunting and set a great mood for the beginning of the film, which the film itself ultimately kills. Then, there is some "found" footage placed in the film of a young girl's birthday party. She's screaming as she is afraid of the clown. Everyone else is happy and having a good time. The father honks the clown's nose and the entire nose falls off, at which point the clown rips out the father's throat. Then, the ending is absolutely haunting but is something that we've seen before, mainly in Dawn Of The Dead.
Basically the film is mediocre at best. It looks like something that would have been a direct to DVD feature, not something worth seeing in a theater. The film itself is peppered with great moments but they are too damn few and far between. I recommend only seeing it if you are a fan of the other films and like me, you are a Romero completest. Otherwise, rent it or stay away completely.
Why have you let me down so Romero? Why?