Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michelle Morgan, Joshua Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Ciupak Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany
Written by: George A. Romero
Directed by: George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language
Running Time: 95
Date: 09/08/2007

Diary of the Dead (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Information Aberration

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

George A. Romero's fifth zombie movie, Diary of the Dead, does not follow the first four; it starts the cycle anew, with a decidedly lower budget, but with yet another potent commentary on the times. Romero's choice to center the action around a group of film students has probably turned off many reviewers; the performances by the inexperienced actors and their constant, half-panicked self-analysis can grate on your nerves, but I expect Romero did it this way on purpose. His method recalls any number of teen shish kebab slasher movies as well as efforts like The Blair Witch Project, Redacted and Cloverfield. Here, the zombies are less a threat than the information age itself.

It begins as Jason Creed (Josh Close) and a crew of classmates attempt to shoot a killer-mummy movie in the woods; news of the rising zombie attacks begins blaring over the airwaves, and the youngsters decide to hit the road back to their homes. Jason decides to film the entire shebang in the hopes that someone else will see it, or that his work might help someone. (We see his completed, edited work after the fact.) They encounter the usual band of zombies, as well as looters, thieves, renegades, and one new character: a deaf Amish man (his wordless grunts initially frighten our heroes). But when Jason is called upon to act like a human being, or a boyfriend to his pretty girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan), he keeps his distance and continues filming. His actions, or inactions, seem far more sinister than the shambling zombie attacks.

Romero ups the ante by including images from dozens, hundreds, thousands of other "filmmakers," shooting on their home cameras and uploading to the Internet. Does any of it add up to the truth? Like the other Dead films, it's ultimately about who we really are as human beings, and the potential questions and answers are infinite. But Romero also has a great deal of fun, as when the "mummy" chase scene is repeated for real, or when a man jokingly pulls the rubber nose off a clown -- and his real nose comes with it. (The film also makes the definitive statement on the controversy surrounding fast zombies vs. slow zombies.) Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Dinicol -- with Romero-style eyeglasses -- and Scott Wentworth make up the rest of the enthusiastic cast. Romero himself appears as a soldier on a TV newscast.

DVD Details: The excellent 2008 DVD from Dimension/Genius comes with a commentary track by Romero, cinematographer Adam Swica and editor Michael Doherty; Romero drops hints as to who the many celebrity voices are in the film, but is coy about giving them all away. A featurette also talks a little about voice recordings by Stephen King, Guillermo Del Toro and Simon Pegg, but no others (and it doesn't give away their location in the film). Reportedly, Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino are in there too. Otherwise, we get a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, other short featurettes, and "zombie films" from contest winners.

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