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Review: Diary of the Dead (2008)

Diary of the Dead (2008)

Directed by: George A. Romero

Premise: Another installment in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series. As the world suffers a zombie attack, a group of film students travels cross-country in a Winnebago, filming the events and broadcasting them on the web.

What Works: Romero’s films have often set the agenda for the rest of the genre, with most other zombie pictures following his lead. Diary of the Dead is told from the point of view of a handheld camera operated by the characters in the film. While this has been done in other pictures, Diary puts some new twists on the technique, showing the viewer the finished product instead of the raw footage and giving the film more polish. The survivors of the film provide a commentary by way of narration and the story acknowledges and incorporates the advent of online communication in a way few films have done and even fewer have done successfully. When it’s at its best, the zombie genre has emerged as one of the most pointed metaphors for social critique and pictures like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Weeks Later, and even Shaun of the Dead have provided insights and in many cases frightening insights into our culture. Diary of the Dead is no exception and it is able to probe into contemporary anxieties about terrorism, institutional instability, and mass media saturation and do all of that better than a lot so-called “serious” films like Rendition, Redacted, or Body of Lies. As is typical of Romero’s work, his filmmaker’s touch is right on the pulse of the culture in ways that are only matched by Steven Spielberg and Romero’s ability to take the culture and throw it back in the audience’s face is in top form in Diary of the Dead.

What Doesn’t: Many of the familiar themes that Romero and the zombie genre have dealt with in the past get played out here. This makes portions of the film rather predictable although Diary of the Dead does not dwell on them. What may disappoint some zombie fans is this picture’s lack of Grand Guignol sequences of violence, blood, and dismemberment. The film has its share of gore, but this is a quieter piece than a lot of recent zombie pictures like 28 Weeks Later, Quarantine, or Romero’s own Land of the Dead.

DVD extras: Commentary track, documentary and featurettes, bonus footage.

Bottom Line: Diary of the Dead is Romero’s best entry in the series since the original Dawn of the Dead. In style he takes a significant departure from the four films that preceded it and that makes Diary a terrific piece of entertainment that also manages some dark and sharp observations about the culture. 

Episode: #209 (October 19, 2008)