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Review Stew: George Romero's Diary of the Dead

Our latest recurring feature compiles quotes and opinions from smart critics to create a single meta-review of a new release. In our inaugural edition, we find out what people are saying about Diary of the Dead, the latest brainy horror flick from zombie master George Romero.

"Reality is mega-mediated," writes New York's David Edelstein of 68-year-old shock auteur George Romero's latest zombie opus, Diary of the Dead (out Friday), which is constructed as a video within a video within a video. "Like the memoir in which the first-person singular appears 23 times on every page, the 'diary' film is getting old fast, and its limited vantage is especially frustrating here," he adds, invoking Cloverfield and Blair Witch. 1 Slant's Jeremiah Kipp thinks that those films, along with Brian DePalma's Redacted, together comprise a legitimate new genre, "First-Person Cinema," and wonders "if the impetus behind these movies is the same that drives the American dream, which is the desire for acknowledgment and adoration forever for your achievements—in short, fame." 2 Variety's Eddie Cockrell also gives a nod to Blair Witch, but thinks that Romero's latest is the "provocative inverse" of its handheld horror predecessor, presenting "confident, savvy coeds" who are a marked contrast with Blair Witch's "sullen offspring, incapable of thinking for themselves or working in groups during a crisis situation." 3

 

This approach, Cockrell adds, allows Romero to place "his finger squarely on the pulse of the younger generation's facile relationship with media and technology. He's also brought his always-healthy skepticism of broadcasting and government to the fore; it's giving nothing away to point to pic's sad, brutal coda as one of the most powerful antiwar statements since America invaded Iraq." Cinematical's Scott Weinberg also points out that Romero has applied his trademark ability to mix "grimly amusing gore, insightful social satire, and all sorts of juicy subtextual nuggets amidst all the high-end ultra-carnage" to the media, and the ways it "shapes our reactions to life's unexpected tragedies." He adds, "By using the 'fake movie within a movie' conceit, the zombie lord gives himself ample opportunity to poke fun at the 'reality' of documentary filmmaking. And poke he does!" 4 Indeed, Diary of the Dead, like previous Romero films, could be called a thinking man's splatter pic, as Romero himself suggested to Katrina Onstad in the New York Times, saying, "I don't get the torture porn films. They're lacking metaphor. For me the gore is always a slap in the face saying: 'Wait a minute. Look at this other thing.'" 5 The other thing he wanted to look at, as Romero told Mark de la Viña of the San Jose Mercury News, was an emerging trend he'd noticed while shooting Land of the Dead in 2005—that, these days, "'everyone's a reporter' posting their own unsubstantiated and subjective clips and stories online." 6

 

Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter thinks that Romero's high-minded conceit of "repositioning those flesh-eating corpses along the information superhighway" delivers "less monstrosity and a great deal of pomposity," 7 while Kevin Courrier of BoxOffice.com offers a delivers a jab at fellow viewers by remarking, "Given the uncritical eye of some of his fans, Diary of the Dead proves one thing: It's the audience that's becoming the zombies now." 8 A majority of critics disagree, however, giving the film a 67% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 9 Nathan Lee of The Village Voice speaks for many of them when he comments, "If Poppa Zombie isn't quite the second coming of McLuhan when it comes to media critique, his return to small-scale indie filmmaking delivers big genre kicks." 10

 

Meanwhile, true believers will be happy to hear that Romero's still not done with zombies. Financing is reportedly in place for Diamond Dead, which Cinematical's Ryan Stewart describes as a "horror-comedy about a rock band called Diamond Dead whose members are all zombies and whose hot babe manager tires to use her media wiles to take them to the top despite their rather unappealing habits, like eating brains and stuff." 11 Apparently, certain subjects never die.

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