(2007) dir. George A. Romero
George A. Romero has long established his place in American cinema, not just the horror genre in which he wound up working in almost exclusively and influencing and creating. From his zombie films, starting with the amazing Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985) and his fantastic vampire film, Martin (1977), Romero not only created intellectual and scary horror films ripe with social commentary, he was a unique voice.
What happened to his career after the 1980’s is probably a combination of things, with a few decent and probably a few out-and-out bad things. When his career got “brought back to life” with remakes of his more classic films, and he was given the opportunity to direct a zombie film again, he brought out Land of the Dead in 2005, reinventing aspects of his series, showing that he still had some commentary left for society, even if his actual film was a not up to the level of his earlier work.
So, when Romero returned yet again with another re-take on the genre with which he is so specifically affiliated, this time back to the low-budgets and largely unrecognizable cast, one has to imagine that the “old master” had truly renewed his flame. But this time, he makes the explicit mistake of taking a “viewer-shot” approach to the film, not unlike last year’s giant monster film, Cloverfield (2007), which also used a semi-found-footage approach to showing a traditional type of monster movie.
The conceits and the goals are the same in some ways. They both seek to comment on the technology that has put cameras and the means of production into the hands of “users”, or average people. No doubt the proliferation of the camera eye in society and the changes to consumption and production are altering culture in strange and unusual ways, perhaps profoundly, but neither film really manages to really do anything other than point that out and then rely on the contrivance of a narrative shot with hand-held cameras, with lots of cameraperson voiceover. And of course, this pretense is a pretense because these films were not really made the way that they are meant to look like. Diary of the Dead goes even further from believability in so explicitly making the student filmmakers so self-aware of their process and self-criticism, commentary, and ultimately, even the act of editing, showing the “strings” behind the puppetry.
It’s too bad. I think this film could have been pretty decent without that approach. There are a few good moments of zombie gore. The eyes bubbling out and popping from the sockets of a zombie who got zapped with an electrical appliance, the zombie clown at the kids party (actually quite funny), and the highly corny death of the mute Amish guy who scythes his head to get himself and his zombie pursuer. Actually the Amish farmer is good for several gags.
I don’t know all of what I would advise Romero in regards to next steps. Keep making the films. They are still more interesting than a lot of the dreck that comes out. Do stay away from the hand-held, first person director stuff. Just keep doing what appeals to you. There is some decent stuff here. Overall, its pretend self-awareness depicts a lessened self-awareness. It seems that the reflexive qualities would be more apt to recognize its true means of production. Wes Craven “discovered” post-modern self-commentary back in the 1990’s with New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1996), but he also showed how shallow all that could be without anything really interesting to say.