Friday, February 22, 2008

Shooting The Dead

I promise this is the last zombie related post till the next zombie related post.

(I dig zombies, what can I say)
This is, in a sense the second part of my day with Diary of the Dead review, so if you have not read the previous post, please go back and do so. Think of it as a “choose your own adventure” story for the really really lame.

Done? Good.
I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but let’s be realistic; it’s a Romero Dead film. It’s not if zombies get the main characters, it’s when.

Here’s a shocker, I thoroughly enjoyed George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead. Romero has returned to his roots of guerrilla film making bypassing Hollywood and making the picture he wanted to make, and it shows.
The films tone more closely resembled the original Dead films Night and Dawn in the sense that Romero has hit the reset button on the genre he’s created and brought us back to the first days of the zombie epidemic.
Diary of the Dead takes place in a world without Resident Evil or Evil Dead, if there’s a George Romero counterpart in this world he’s still working for PBS. There are no known zombie rules in Diary of the Dead. No one automatically goes for the head shot, or get’s the now clichéd idea to head to the nearest mall, a bite is just a bite and certainly not deadly. As our heroes learn, Romero’s rules of the dead are in place and it’s only through trial, since there’s no room for error, do they discover what those are. One thing that bugged me in the Dawn remake was only a bite would turn you, but as the one legged priest in the original Dawn said “When the dead walk the earth señors, we must stop the killing, or lose the war” Any dead body will rise in Diary, which ups the ante considerably for our survivors.

Just who are our survivors?
A group of film students and their teacher are out in the woods of Pittsburgh filming a mummy picture when the first news reports start coming in. Finding the dorms deserted and not knowing what to do, they load up in an RV and try to get to their respective homes.
Jason who wants to be a documentary filmmaker controls the camera through most of the film. I say most because one of the themes of this film is the camera as a safety net and at times as an addiction. Where Hud in Cloverfield seemed to keep the camera going out of shock, Jason operates obsessively, needing to create his movie The Death of Death which is the true film we are watching. While he may hide behind the tenet of needing to get the truth out, it’s really about how many hits his MySpace page gets. Don’t get me wrong, Jason isn’t a bad guy, he’s doing what he believes is right, and that belief includes a strict non interference policy. At one point he’s charging the camera battery when he hears shots coming from the direction his girlfriend Debra had gone. Unable to leave the camera you can feel his relief when Debra appears at the doorway. What happened? He asks. If it didn’t happen on camera, it didn’t happen she replies.

Like all of Romero’s Dead films, Diary has a somewhat heavy handed social commentary to make. Unable to trust traditional news media, information publication falls into the hands of the bloggers and the YouTubers, but it’s only a matter of time that all this information and all this news spinning becomes noise and you can no longer tell what truth is. Where does our responsibility lie? Is it our role to prevent atrocities or document them?

I wish I could tell you who played who, but with a cast of newcomers and my lousy memory for names I can’t. What I can tell you is each character was fleshed out just enough to let you know them. One thing I love about Romero films is his short story approach to characterization. Unlike another writer/director named George who creates great characters but can’t get them to live on screen, Romero’s written characterization is basic, and it’s in front of the camera that they become real people. Our group meets up with a mute Amish man in one of the movies funnier and terrifying moments. Romero captures everything you need to know about him within a few minutes of screen time and I find myself caring about what happens to him. The same goes for another band of survivors we meet who have organized with military precision under the leadership of an ex national guardsman. The lead guardsman was great and I’d love to see Romero tackle another film just about these guys. You can see how a society like the one in Land of the Dead could form from survival groups like this trying to rebuild.

Romero also dips into his own bag of tricks to give us little nods to previous Dead films. From soldiers cleaning out an apartment building, complete with a resident shouting “don’t go in there” (a direct nod to Dawn) to a home being overrun as in Night and a zombies guts spilling out as it attempts to rise (dream sequence from Day). Romero reminds us that somewhere a woman named Barbara just lost her brother, and a guy named Steven is still flying his helicopter for a local news channel and everything is going to hell.

My nits to pick are small. With Romero returning to his roots I would have liked to see more “live” gore effects. The whole film was shot in 23 days and many of the effects were added digitally. Since the film was financed without a studio backing it this saved Romero a ton of money, but I found myself missing latex chunks torn from necks and torsos being ripped into as condoms filled with stage blood erupt and paint the actors. One effect involving hydrochloric acid really took me out of the moment as it was clearly digital.
I also found it difficult to tell how much time had passed and how much distance has been traveled. Unlike Cloverfield, The Death of Death is an edited film, and while that eliminates complaints over how long it takes to get from downtown to 59th street on foot, it also eliminates our timeline. I’m assuming that our group is on the road for several days, but I could be wrong.

The makeup however, by Greg Nicotero was top notch and the first zombie in particular reminded me of why I love these films.

So to wrap up, George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead is a must see for fans, and I’m hoping it gets a bigger distribution. If you’re a casual fan or new to the zombie genre, this reboot will show you what makes Romero the king, and why nothing is scarier than a slow zombie.

George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead is in limited release.
For a list of theaters click here.


Anonymous said...

Good to know...I start them early in life... my 7 year old daughter's (and my 9 y/o son's) favorite film is 'Shaun of the Dead' They laugh through out since they have grown up on zombie movies.. and have eagerily awaited this flick. Sometimes I have explain' to do at parent-teacher conferences. Like my son making refernces to 'Fido' and us getting a zombie to help out around the house. Ahh you can take the girl outa NY, but not the NY outa the girl ;) trappedinnorthcountry...

Charlie said...

Good for you, and good for your kids! You may have explaining to do now, but when the great panic starts....
I'm also an NYer, I've been in Va since 2002, I only feel trapped 85% of the time now. Ok, maybe 90/95%.

Anonymous said...

Yeah.... very proud of my kids, they loathe anything disney and have grown up on BeetleJuice, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Bill and Mandy, etc. Can't wait to see 'Diary'...
As far as NYC, miss it, but it certainly isn't the same city. All the underbelly-grime-grit-charm is gone. EEEECK a Hershey and a Disney store in Times Square. Long gone are the days of eating chinese food out of containers sittin' in a Times square theater watching Kung Fu or slasher flicks.. And CBGB's in VEGAS, what is next? Does anyone even sell their crap on St Marks anymore??? The people in New York now NEED to be eaten by zombies.. ;) trappedinnorthcountrysurroundedbyinbreds

Charlie said...

Ha! I once had to buy my own jacket back on St. Marks. The only Good things there are Toy Tokyo and Kim's Video. Even the Kiev has been replaced. Going back to NYC just doesn't hold the same rush it once did. Well, at least there are transvestite hookers here in Richmond to remind me the whole world hasn't been Disneyfied. Sounds like we traveled in the same grimy, gritty circle.