Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Diary of the Dead- Review

Diary of the Dead- Review

Jul 25, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by George Romero, 2007

“Are we worth saving?  You tell me.” – Debra Moynihan

With those concluding words of narration, Diary of the Dead rolls credits.  It is a question that permeates the brilliant storytelling of famed horror director George Romero in this 5th entry of his critically acclaimed Dead series.  A struggle for power, an insatiable desire to fulfill a perceived life purpose, and a misunderstood destination of safety all provide a thought-provoking 90 minutes of zombie mania.

Diary of the Dead is not a typical sequel in the Dead series, but rather documents a separate story during the initial outbreak of the original Night of the Living Dead movie.  In other words, the timeline follows the same chronology of the original 1968 film even though the immediate setting of Diary of the Dead is in the 21st century.  As this group of young people are struggling with zombies and one another, we can imagine a boarded up house on a farm somewhere in PA where Ben and Barbra are fighting for their lives.  Several references to the original film are made, including the reuse of the original newscast from NOTLD.  Romero himself called this entry a “rejigging of the myth.”

As always, Romero is masterful with zombies and remains in this reviewer’s eye the heavyweight champion of all things zombiefied.  This particular story follows a group of young Pitt film students who are creating a horror movie when the outbreak strikes.  Since documentary is Jason Creed’s first love, he decides to carry his trusty Panasonic camera with him at all times and capture the events of the developing real life horror story.  Along the way, another camera is picked up allowing for two different camera angles of the action.  We learn at the beginning of the movie that Jason’s girlfriend, Debra, compiled the film together so that people would know the truth.  Oh, she also added music and sound effects because she “wants you to be scared.”  Unfortunately, the film at times loses its grip because of the consistent and occasionally tiresome use of the documentary style.  That is one of very few complaints I have with the movie.

In typical Romero fashion, we are immersed in the struggles of the core group of people as they in turn are struggling with survival.  Deeply embedded in DOTD is the universal desire to fulfill our life passion, which almost certainly involves a certain amount of assumed power.  For Jason, the consuming desire to capture the “real” story of the outbreak is convincingly explained to Barbra as the only way they might be able to save lives.  However, Jason’s true motives are revealed when he repeatedly refuses to put down the camera in times of desperate need, choosing instead to film the ending of human life at the hands of the zombies rather than save a human life, which is of course the explanation he provided for the filming in the first place.  In this way, Jason is no different than the living dead.  They know only one thing – to seek out and consume living human flesh.  Jason’s passions close his mind to any reality other than getting the shot on film.  Romero once again reminds us that the line between zombie and human is not as broad as we might think.  Debra, during her overdub narration of the finished documentary, blatantly explains this truth by asserting, “it is us vs. them.  The problem is that they are us.”

Another interesting sub-theme that was consistently placed throughout the dialogue was the realization of the supernatural in the chaotic events.  At one point, a character sarcastically screams that unless you are Jesus Christ you “don’t stand up and walk around after you are dead.”  Another use of narration by Debra insists that “God had changed the rules and we were following along.”  The movie makes clear that a world beyond mere materialism is known by all people in all places, yet even that inner knowledge cannot keep us from pursuing the riches of materialism.  At one point the group seeks refuge in a large garage where a band of friends had looted the entire city and hauled it all to one central location.  Proud of their accomplishments and their acquisition of stuff, they were unwilling to even let the group fill their tank completely with gas.  Finally, they were able to say “look at all the stuff we have.”

In the last 2 minutes of the movie, as the remaining 3 characters are talking with one another, an older professor looks in the mirror as the sun is rising.  The dialogue that ensues is wonderful:

Debra:  Things always look better in the morning.
Andrew:  Not to me. Mornings bring light. I prefer the darkness. It’s easier to hide in the dark.
Tony:  You know, Professor? I actually get the… the mornings. They show you for what you are, instead of what you think you are.
Andrew:  Inelegantly phrased, Mr. Ravello, but accurately put. Mornings… and mirrors. I despise them. Mornings and mirrors only serve to terrify old men.

We all prefer the darkness, it is indeed easier to hide.  On this point of dialogue, it is hard to imagine that Romero did not have John3 in mind:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Are humans worth saving?  Absolutely.  And yet because of our own love of darkness, not all will be saved.

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