Monday, September 10, 2007
TIFF 2007: GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD
GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007; USA/Canada)
D: George A. Romero
In an age where everyone's dying to tell a story, to make themselves known, and increasingly fitted eight ways to Sunday with the means to do it, it should come as no surprise that a reimagining of George Romero's DEAD franchise would be a timely affair, particularly now that it's been liberated from studio interference.
This time out—his 146th if I recall correctly, and I think I do—Romero's trademark unexplained zombie apocalypse rises up while the protagonists, a bunch of pretentious film school students and their besotted professor, are shooting a low budget monster movie deep in the woods outside Pittsburgh. The one in Ontario, Canada, that is. Armed with the videographic weapons of the digital age—cell phone cameras, DV cameras, Webcams, security cameras, Myspace and YouTube videos— and the knowledge that the end is nigh, the group sets out in their grimy Winnebago (with the "W" logo rather lazily taped over by Romero's set designers) to document the mayhem with an eye to uploading the results so that people can see the truth this bunch believes the world is being denied by the mainstream media, which has almost immediately attempted to put a positive spin on the plague.
Folks who like to piss all over Romero's last zombie flick, the narrative-driven LAND OF THE DEAD (which really wasn't that bad), will find much to savour here now that he's working to his own specs on a comparitively modest budget and freed of a standard narrative. There's a sense of urgency and nausea (and, of course, calculation) in the hand-held camerawork— much of it performed by cast members—that has been largely absent since Romero's original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
That to achieve any of this Romero's characters had to be pretentious film-school students (and their besotted professor) was a bit of a bother, but in this age of untrusted media conglomerates and ubiquitous, listen-to-ME "personal reporting," I suppose it is the most topical route to catch up to the zeitgeist. But the concept wears a bit thin over the course of 90+ minutes, though by then you've invested enough in these characters to at least see how, or if, they die. The whole cynical "are you gettin' all this on your stupid camera?" ethical-moral routine is present and accounted for as pretty much everyone takes a shot at their student "director" (Joshua Close) for his seemingly callous drive to capture every gruesome moment on video. A brief snippet of Close's character talking to the camera is about all we're given to suggest he's NOT motivated by a filmschoolian lust for fame, and it's barely enough to convince. Indeed, the entire film is set up as a patchwork documentary pieced together from various sources by the director's girlfriend after he's no longer capable of finishing the project. Indeed, the film's opening title isn't DIARY OF THE DEAD, it's THE DEATH OF DEATH. Clever, if not particularly inventive. Her switch from loathing his decisions to finishing the project in his honour—replete with a horror-film score because she feels she needs to "scare you"—is just a bit too tidy (and quite how she does it is never explained, even though we're supposed to be watching the final results)
As stated, a lower budget apparently couldn't deny Romero the services of the folks at KNB Effects Group, and their gore doesn't disappoint in the least! A few little bits of CG are evident in the head shots, but that's acceptable in this day and age. Overall, though, the zombies meet some very inventive demises this time out, via defibrillator paddles, acid, scythes, gunshots, you name it. An attempt to be all meaningful in the final scene rings a bit hollow, but the effect used to put it across is exceptionally well done.
The film's most memorable character is bound to be Samuel, the deaf-mute Amish man who proves rather handy with his little chalk-board, with which he communicates with the protagonists when they stop at his farm, and sticks of dynamite, with which he dispatches three undead ghouls before turning around his chalkboard, where's he written an introductory "Hello, I'm Samuel" that he punctuates with confident little nod of the head! Priceless.