George Romero’s Diary of the Dead is sure to be compared to “Cloverfield,” thanks to a vague similarity in the first-person video diary style that became an instant cliche minutes after “The Blair Witch Project” made it into a high-concept horror success. They couldn’t be more different, and it’s more than simply budgets and gloss.
Where “Cloverfield” begs your indulgence while a clueless schlub refuses to put down the camera in a situation where it could impede his survival, “Diary” makes the cameraman’s refusal to drop the camera the defining characteristic of the character, an aspiring filmmaker who is more concerned with making history than surviving it, and the often heated arguments.
It also shares something in common with “Redacted” – the mix of first-person video footage, news footage and streaming video uploaded to the Internet, not to mention rather awkward performances that substitute volume for commitment. Performance has never been Romero’s strong suit and he’s not one to coax convincing characters from limited actors, but at least they are more interesting than the bland nothings on display in “Cloverfield.” More importantly, however, Romero has something more on his mind. Not always subtle, but interesting and insistent and less verbal than visual and visceral. Romero follows a familiar horror narrative structure and knows how to deliver the zombie conventions – the stumbling chases, the gore, the scrambling survivors who inevitably trip in the panic of their escape – but between the conventions is a root suspicion of the veracity of the media in the way if reports on our world.
It also questions the engagement of the cameraman in such a situation. Is his duty to document, or to put down the camera and help?
I reviewed the film in the Seattle P-I here.
The motivations of the citizens aren’t necessarily altruistic, but that fits nicely with Romero’s balance of pragmatism and ambiguity.
Even as society breaks down into looting and feudalistic enclaves, information is still a commodity in the digital age.
Update – my Seattle Times colleague Mark Rahner interviewed George Romero about Diary late last year. The interview was published in the Seattle Times with an extended on-line version. Continue reading “New reviews: ‘Diary of the Dead, ‘Definitely, Maybe’ and ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’”