Diary of the Dead (2007) Review
Written by: LoudLon
George Romero long ago carved himself a niche in the horror genre as a maker of fantastically allegorical films which fork-fed viewers heaping helpings of social commentary. And this approach worked out very well for him.
Diary of the Dead naturally has its fair share of social commentary, as well. Romero sharpens his satiric blade on such topics as internet phenomenons, the fact that no matter how atrocious an incident is there's always some shmuck there more willing to record it with his camera than to lend the person suffering a helping hand, and our country's tendency to go lash out at a perceived threat and destroy it before we make any kind of attempt to understand it first.
Yet in the context of this story, his commentary seems less precise than most of his other films. Each of his prior films contain a single line which sums up exactly what it is Romero is trying to say about society at the given time. In Dawn of the Dead, a character comments that the zombies are flocking to the mall because it meant something to them in their lives -- a stab at the explosion in consumerism in post-Viet Nam America. In Land of the Dead Romero pokes the Bush administration in the ass with a spiked enema when he has a character comment, "We do not negotiate with terrorists." In Night of the Living Dead a black character is shot dead by unblinking Middle Americans, and this during the height of racial tension and civil unrest.
But Diary of the Dead lacks that kind of precision. Here, it's not quite as clear what he's trying to say because he's commenting on so many different modern issues that he doesn't really address a single one in full. As many issues as we face as a country today, he could have milked ten movies out of them and still had fodder for a half dozen more, but instead we get a rather lackluster story with just enough subversive commentary to keep it interesting, yet not enough to make it completely involving. And what is a George Romero film which doesn't pull you in and make you think, but a film by any number of other, lesser filmmakers who don't put any kind of effort into it at all?
Before you go accusing me of expecting too much, keep in mind I am a tremendous George Romero fan. I see him as quite possibly the greatest genre filmmaker of, if not the last century, at least the last forty years. Very few genre filmmakers truly put their heart, soul and full intelligence into their stories and characters like Romero does, and very few seem to have so keen an ability to find humor, however subversive, in the issues we face trend after trend, war after war, year after year. But what disappointed me about Diary of the Dead is that it feels more like a series of empty, throw-away comments on current issues, and less like the usual deeper, more thoughtful and more satiric commentary Romero has become known for.
If there is anything that is an improvement upon his previous films it's that Romero seems to have become more technically competent -- witness the virtual smörgåsbord of computer created and/or enhanced gore effects, his ability to move the camera more artistically and his ability to milk good, solid performances from less-than-experienced actors. But technical achievements do not a genre film make, especially a George Romero genre film.
I've been known to say that even a bad Romero film is twice as good as anything else the genre is throwing at us on any given day. Diary of the Dead, however, feels more like Romero being content showing us just half his hand. And for me, that's like Tiger Woods settling for par.