George Romero’s Diary of the Dead

George Romero’s latest film offering is getting limited distribution, and I recommend that you catch it quickly. As the latest in his Living Dead movies (following Night, Dawn, Day, and Land), Romero offers us yet another entertaining, yet meaningful glipse into horror. Here are a few comments without spoilers.

Night of the Living Dead is an American classic. Other directors have tried to copy it a hundred times, mostly failing miserably. In Diary, Romero returns to the events of the original Night and tries to copy his own masterpiece, updating to modern times and with a different perspective. I think he achieves this goal. He pays due homage to the original without simply xeroxing its formula, succeeding in creating a whole different story with different people that is engaging and meaningful.

As in most of his work, Romero succeeds in horrifying us not with a monster, but with the monster represented by humankind. In Diary, Romero is no longer subtle about this message, putting into the narrative “movie within the movie” the voice of judgment, ending with a powerful ultimate question. What other director indicts our society this forcefully while still entertaining and thrilling audiences?

Fans of horror films walk into a new Romero movie expecting excellence because he generally delivers it. That’s why, when he tries something new, we have to roll with the punches of a master at work and try to go with his flow. The vehicle of this film, of film students chronicling the events, succeeds where Cloverfield perhaps failed in that these are purpose-driven people acting in ways that even they have troubling articulating. Jason is not a cardboard hero. He has trouble at times explaining his muse and why he is doing what he is doing. The characters are conflicted, which is of course trademark Romero. He never gives you an easo hero or heroine and never hands it to you on a plate. You, the viewer, will be entertained, but he also wants you to think and to leave the theater mad and frustrated by the world.

And, of course, the fanboy in me wants great special effects and he delivers again. There are a couple of memorable dispatchings of zombies and some subtly creepy images. The video taping was effective without the jarring quality of other films (like Blair Witch Project) that have used this vehicle. So, my recommendation is “Don’t miss it.” Diary is an admirable addition to the Living Dead lexicon and deserves our praise. This is the work of a master craftsman in his prime, challenging us the way all great artists do.