Saturday, December 6, 2008

Diary of the Dead: If I'm sick of zombies, why did I watch this?

Hey, anyone who likes to complain about/defend/contemplate the writing of Mark Millar might be interested in this post on A Trout in the Milk.  It's long and meandering, as Plok(or Pillock, if that's what he's calling himself these days)'s writing often is, but it's really a pretty fascinating look at what makes Millar's work so compelling.  I would say that when Millar is good, he writes really, really enjoyable comics, but he can also make some pretty terrible ones, and the post examines why that is.  Interesting stuff.

And what the hell, how about a short movie review:

Diary of the Dead
Directed by George Romero
2008, United States

So why did I watch this again?  I don't hate the zombie genre, but with the proliferation of poor-quality zombie movies (I see tons of terrible-looking straight-to-DVD pictures on the shelves at Blockbuster), comics (can Marvel Zombies just disappear already?), books (I do want to read World War Z though), and whatnot (like this ugly bit of business) out there, I'm kind of sick of the whole thing.  But while I did hear that this movie was not very good, I still want to give George Romero a chance, since he started the whole thing.  And while it mostly lived up to its reputation, there were definitely some good moments that made it worth watching, even if it's definitely the worst of Romero's zombie pictures.

The thing with this one is that rather than making the social commentary understated, as in his previous films, this one puts it front and center, not only having characters obviously discuss the themes of a media-saturated culture and the distancing effect of being behind a camera or staring at a TV or computer monitor, but even calling extra attention to itself by having an obnoxious voiceover explain those themes to us again repeatedly throughout the film.  The conceit here, taking a page from movies like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, is that some film school students are shooting a movie during the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse, and the director decides that it's important to keep filming and documenting everything that is happening, so what we see throughout the movie is everything that was recorded by the cameras.  His girlfriend is the one who ends up putting the whole thing together at the end (as she informs us at the beginning), so she's the one responsible for the egregious voiceover ranting and tiresome montages editing together scenes of real-life violence that show us how desensitized we are to everything around us because we're so steeped in media.  Or something like that; it gets so tiresome, by the end of the movie I was kind of tuning out whenever she started talking.

But the thing is, as stupid as this is, it kind of works as a parody of pretentious student films, and the way college-age kids think their philosophizing is so important, man.  It even works in the context of the film; when the students argue about the camera being on and how fucked up everything is, it sounds like the real conversations that kind of people would have.  Even their professor who tags along fits the bill; he's used to students listening attentively as he natters on about dumb academic subjects.  It would work better if these people were better actors, but it's still not a bad inherent concept.  The problem is that it gets deathly boring; if it seemed a bit more knowing about its own pretentiousness, I might be more inclined to give it a pass, but as it is, the film seems to take itself at face value, making for a blurry-eyed night after all the eye-rolling that takes place.

Still, there are some nice Romero moments, like when the kids encounter an Amish deaf man who blows up some zombies with a stick of dynamite and stands there holding a sign that says "I'm Samuel, hello" while body parts rain down on him.  Or a gruesome death involving hydrochloric acid; that was pretty cool.  I could have done without the meta-commentary about how zombies should move slow though; that sort of thing should really stay on message boards.

So, yeah, if you've heard that the movie isn't very good, you heard right.  But if you like Romero, it's worth checking out with the knowledge that there are some good moments sprinkled in here and there amidst the pretentiousness.  Just don't expect another Dawn of the Dead, and you'll be all right.