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Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2007)

Advance word reported that George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead, the latest in his epic horror franchise, used the gimmick of presenting all action as if it were recorded by the characters in the film. That knowledge prepared me for the worst, given the number of post-Blair Witch genre films that have done little with the conceit. Shame on me for doubting the great Romero, though. One of the indisputable masters of the genre, he has amassed a body of socially conscious, genuinely frightening work. Through its clever advancements of the zombie genre and its consistently surprising series of set pieces, Diary of the Dead earns the right to stand alongside anything that Romero has made.

A re-imagining and updating of the original Night of the Living Dead, Diary follows a group of film students who are on location in rural Pennsylvania when news reports hit that the dead are now walking the earth. Slyly commenting on just how media-saturated today's youth are, the initial response that these kids have to the news is to make a documentary about the events. Skeptical of traditional media, the film celebrates bloggers, MySpace publishers and all forms of DIY reporting. Many of the limitations here feel like assets, given then way that Romero presents what we see as the home-edited, internet-posted work of a film student with a social conscience. Judging by the jokes, such as those featuring a deaf Amish man, that would feel right at home on YouTube, it's clear that Romero is as in touch with the times as ever. Alongside his biting Land of the Dead, Diary presents powerful evidence that Romero might be the American filmmaker most tapped into the new hypocrisies and fears of the post-9/11 era.

That's not to suggest that Diary of the Dead is so socially conscious that it forgets that it's a horror film. To the contrary, the new stylistic approach seems to re-energize the filmmaker, leading him to invent an endless series of scares as the young documentarians move from one zombie-infested disaster area to the next. If the prevailing sense of dread that so distinguished the original never materializes, it's only because Romero's ambitions are far greater here. He reasserts himself again as the definitive expert of his subgenre (one hilarious bit reasserts that the undead shouldn't run in movies) and delivers a wholly original entry in a series that might have seemed to have said it all already.



Jeremy Heilman