Friday 18 September 2009

46: Twelve Movies - Diary of the Dead

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Originally posted: 19 March 2009

12 Days: 12 Movies
(2007, 91mins, Dir. George A. Romero)

Put Simply: This is 'The Phantom Menace' of zombie movies.
Stars: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Philip Riccio, Scott Wentworth

Never got round to seeing this at the time, as it was only on for a week at our local. Whereas Romero's zombie movies so far have followed a loose chronology, at least in each stage of the zombie uprising, this is basically a re-boot for the modern era (similar in that respect to Zack Snyder's excellent 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead). As such, there's the heavy-handed realisation that everyone's got a camera these days, and they're no longer the clunky two-handed variety from 20 years ago.

A group of film students are making a hammy horror movie in the woods when word arrives that the dead are rising. As they're conveniently armed to the teeth with filming equipment, they begin documenting the events around them, for posterity at least. They're using pro-cameras (ie, clunky two-handed jobs), so the sight of them with these whopping monstrosities on their shoulders is par for the course for this sort of jaunt. It's only when cell-phone cameras and online uploading make appearances that we're reminded this is happening now. That being said, the scenes with the Myspace page? Very 2007 :p Still, at least the computers in this movie look like they're running real operating systems, instead of clunky audience/idiot-friendly lettering on the screen that 90% of movies seem to love showing. *Tch*

As the cameras are all "in-universe", all of the footage is on shaky-cam (with the exception of the excellently used surveillance-cam footage for the film's final act). As a result, the footage in the 'event' scenes is reminiscent of a first-person-shooter game, minus the gun at the bottom of the screen. A couple of set-pieces in the film (the hospital and the farm/barn) reminded me heavily of the tie-in game they made for Land of the Dead, Romero's previous film. In a zombie movie, the less people there are about, the more dangerous it feels. This also heightens the claustrophobia, as we invariably see only what the camera operator is looking at, only when they're looking. So quite a few "He's behind you, you knob!" moments in here.
The first real introduction to home-video-zombies for me was on the extras for the DotD remake, but as this is the basis for the whole movie, it feels like a nice, natural (...y'know) progression.

As far as textbook-zombies go, George wrote the handbook, so they're perfectly in keeping (although I had no problem with Snyder's running zombies). As well as the headshot-rule (which thankfully they work out very quickly - it pisses me off when nobody in a zombie movie seems to have seen a zombie movie before), there are, of course, some more creative disposals in the film. A good old-fashioned bow & arrow, hydrochloric acid and a defibrilator machine all take turns at dispatching the undead hordes to beautiful (...y'know) effect. The acting is generally above-par for the kind of movie this is, then again, the guy making it is the master, so you'd expect decent casting, at least. It also helps that Dennis Hopper isn't hamming it up in this one [rolls eyes].
Extra props go to Philip Riccio for his fantastic turn as the demented-mummy in the final act; Scott Wentworth as a sort of Happy-Shopper (K-Mart) version of Alan Rickman; and the most fucking bad-ass Amish farmer you've ever seen.

While the writing is excellent, the script sways between good-and-average and the direction seems a little laggy for the first half. Even so, this is still a solid movie. Anyone who saw Mena Suvari and Ving Rhames in the Day of the Dead remake will know that while everyone gets into these things with the best of intentions, it's difficult to pull off a fantastic zombie movie these days. Although I'm going to point out AGAIN that Zack Snyder did.

There are a lot of seriously shit zombie films out there. While this may not scream of greatness, it's still head and shoulders above most.

I reckon: 7/10

Tomorrow: The Hunting Party

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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