Again, we go out of sequence in the DEAD series. First, by skipping NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in order to keep things alphabetical, than reviewed DAWN OF THE DEAD and then DAY OF THE DEAD because they were alphabetical, now we skip past LAND OF THE DEAD to do later because next up in the alphabet is DIARY OF THE DEAD.
DIARY OF THE DEAD is easily my least favorite of Romero’s DEAD series. That’s not to say that it’s bad, it just isn’t up to the same level as the other films. That and it has a gimmick, it’s a found footage movie. However, it was found footage before found footage was cool. Actually PARANORMAL ACTIVITY that started the crazy found footage train came out the same year as DIARY OF THE DEAD, just a few months later.
It is interesting to see the zombie invasion as found footage. Freezes you up to do some interesting things, but it also sets you up to where you can be lazy and get away with it. This film is a mix of the two. Most of the lazy comes from there being two cameras, and therefore two angles, of almost anything.
Here’s the part that throws me from liking this film as much as the others, the second camera. The film starts out with narration from one of the female survivors, she briefly explains what we’ll be seeing, and she talks about how she edited all this footage together, even added music where it seemed appropriate. So what she’s saying, basically, is that we’re technically watching a movie, not a found footage film, because it still has all the trappings of a movie, but it goes deeper than that. There are several films set up this way where someone has edited footage together and is ‘presenting’ it to an audience. In most, however, they end with the footage being edited, or at the very least, brings us as close to the present in the movie as possible. DIARY OF THE DEAD just kinda switches the power off on you all of a sudden. It ends with the narrator using the one camera to continue filming. So I’m not sure if nothing interesting happened between then and her present, or if that’s the end of their story (which, if you take everything into consideration, it’s not). This is very off-putting to me.
Now, add to that the rest of the pieces of the end of the film. Zombies everywhere, the group is hiding in a panic room. This has the classic feel of a riveting zombie-killing finale. But just when it reaches its climax…roll credits. WHAT!?!?!?! Are you telling me I sat through this whole goddamn movie just to be lied to in the end, AND not getting a satisfactory ending. Romero, WHY????
There’s plenty of good commentary in this film though, not completely redemptive, but good nonetheless. DIARY OF THE DEAD focuses on the media, and how it willingly lies to people, which is the whole reason these college kids are making this ‘documentary’, so that the truth will be told about what’s happening. There’s also a dash of vanity and the reflection of our own narcissism going on as well.
There are also clever scenes, like my favorite, when Jason is stuck in a hospital ward because he’s waiting for his camera battery to charge. So everyone leaves him and he continues to film everything, but when a zombie pops up he’s suddenly in real danger. All because he wants an accurate record.
The biggest problem with DIARY OF THE DEAD is we have a group of college kids, and their professor, but this isn’t a man vs man story, or even a man vs. self story, it’s man against zombie. Which is a change of pace for the DEAD series, which is usually man vs. man, the real danger isn’t the zombies, it’s the company you keep. Making it almost strictly man vs. zombie, which you can see in any run-of-the-mill zombie movie. The thing that has always set Romero’s DEAD series is how it isn’t about the surface, it’s beneath the surface where you have to look. This film doesn’t really have that going for it. The danger is outside, not inside. I find this to be the film’s biggest problem, it just doesn’t deliver the goods. Which all the other DEAD films are able to do. Thus, why I’m not a huge fan of DIARY OF THE DEAD.
DIARY OF THE DEAD, according to some, is supposed to take place on the same night as the first film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Also, if I remember correctly, there is a cameo by the group we follow in the next film, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (the ones that steal their food and other supplies), however, that could just be wishful thinking. Won’t know for a while, as it is much later in the alphabet.
Anyway, if you’re having a weekend film party with the DEAD franchise, you should watch this. But if you’re looking for a good zombie movie, pick ANY of the others in the DEAD franchise because this one is a stinker. Again, it isn’t a terrible movie, just doesn’t hold up with the other films in the franchise.