Saturday, May 23, 2020

DIARY OF THE DEAD (George Romero, 2007, USA)

“What does a camera see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a camera see into me- into us -clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the cameras do better.” (From the Philip K. Dick novel A SCANNER DARKLY)

George Romero revisits the theme of his original masterpiece NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: a small group struggles to survive in the first few desperate hours of the end of the world. Whereas NIGHT was a devious and challenging social allegory this version is crude, obnoxious, and as subtle as Hiroshima. This film within a film THE DEATH OF DEATH creates space, projects an emotional distance between the audience and the characters, which is (I believe) exactly what Romero intended. DIARY is a self-referencing post-modern look at an often creatively dead and buried genre and Romero attempts to resuscitate our interest.

Our protagonists are a small film crew working on their college thesis when they hear the breaking news. Of course, they are filming a generic horror film with all of the typical conventions: the shambling corpses, woman trips, monster rips her shirt revealing bosom, etc. These clichés are put to rest in the final act but it’s not surprising, cunning, or ironic: it just seems mostly harmless. Romero falls victim to his own hackneyed contrivances as he must find a unique way to kill people: an Amish man puts a scythe through his own head or electric paddles zapped to the head with eye spurting gore. What was once fun is now tired and overused excess. The characters are poorly defined and the dialogue is insipid and uninspired: they just blather about the importance of documenting the apocalypse thus preserving the Truth. But the reality is altered when the camera is turned on; the composition of a shot absolutely changes viewer perception and we see only a representation…a filmmaker’s interpretation of what is real. And Romero’s camera sees darkly.

These are grandiose ideas and worth exploring but here it falls flat, here we don’t care about the characters and they just putter about in a small land full of zombies. Romero leads us by the nose and asks the obvious question: Are we worth saving? But we shouldn’t be directed to his manifest answer…the film should be ingenious enough to let us discover our own.