Imagine that you are watching George A. Romero' seminal horror flick Dawn of the Dead. Now imagine that after all the delightful mall carnage and beautifully crafted social satire, an utterly redundant narrator comes on and says, "In case you missed it, the film's about consumerism. It's a metaphor. Get it?" Well, that is unfortunately what it's like to watch Romero's latest zombie foray, the miserable Diary of the Dead, a movie so obnoxiously mediocre and insipidly derivative it makes efforts like Cloverfield seem downright brilliant.
There isn't really much of a plot to summarize. Instead of continuing the established universe that every other Dead movie has built upon and expanded, Diary, in a poorly conceived (and an even more poorly executed) act of "revisionism," decides to go back to the beginning. The twist? Diary of the Dead follows a group of student filmmakers who were filming their own cheesy horror movie when the outbreak began and who, armed with the cameras and more "the people need to know" and blogs will save the day sentiment than is easily stomached, decide that they should document the deterioration of civilization. And that's the movie. Every single predictable zombie flick convention is present and accounted for, from the tense interpersonal relationships, to the inevitable and by now entirely procedural killing off of characters, and to the morally suspect militia and/or military groups, everything that you've come to expect is here. And it's just tedious.
It's hard not to think that Romero hasn't pulled a Lucas on us and simply revealed himself to be a bad filmmaker. The original trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead are three of the most revered horror movies of all time, and rightly so. They were a nearly perfect combination of shock and gore horror, social satire and artistic vision. Land of the Dead, which I still enjoyed, was a disappointing misstep but still managed to carry the torch. But here... it's like Romero simply has no idea what he's doing. From the ghastly narration, which more often than not just makes horribly explicit whatever ghosts of subtext may have awkwardly floated into the previous scenes, to the third-rate special effects and gore sequences that simply look like made-for-cable sloppy seconds, Romero seems incapable of making the right decision on this film.
But the film's biggest problem is that it fails to execute its central conceit, that this is amateur footage shot by film students. The Blair Witch Project may have been more annoying than scary and Cloverfield may have been more hype than substance but at least both of those films obeyed their own rules and gave us films that stayed within the expected parameters. Romero, on the other hand, seems to think that splicing together several different feeds of video, using some awkward and non-traditional camera angles, and having whole lot of people tell the camera man he's insane for filming during a time like this translates as "amateur video." But instead of feeling like something you could stumble across on youtube, Diary not only still feels like an actually shot and edited film, it feels like a badly shot and edited film. Sure, there's a thin pretext for the film's "polish:" one of the students, for some reason, somehow completed, edited, scored and narrated their little apocalyptic documentary during the crisis because, apparently, uploading the movie and "letting the people know" is more important than survival, as if blogging or some tightly grasped notion of journalistic integrity would suddenly de-animate the dead and save the day.
I'm tempted to think that Romero has just run out of steam and is at this time running on name recognition only. Like Lucas, Coppola and Spielberg, perhaps he should just retire and leave the film business to a younger generation. Films like this tempt me to think that older directors should just stop before they make themselves look ridiculous. But last year William Friedkin released Bug, one of the most psychologically taught and ferocious horror thrillers I've ever seen. It was remarkable not only for it's audacity but also because it felt like the creation of an exciting up-and-comer, someone bristling with new ideas and concepts, someone like a smarter (much smarter) Eli Roth. There are plenty of matured filmmakers that still produce amazing works of art: Cronenberg, Herzog, and Scorsese, just to name a few. Romero, sadly, isn't one of them... and Diary of the Dead is the sad proof of that.
experto crede: unless you are a cinematic masochist, or someone who wants to see the mighty fall, avoid Diary of the Dead. It will only ruin your picture of Romero.