George Romero is the don of the dead. Without the bearded Pittsburgh helmer’s canon of Night, Dawn, Day and Land Of The Dead, the zombie genre wouldn’t have a decomposing leg to stand on. Forty years after Night Of The Living Dead first unleashed its cannibal corpses, Diary reboots the franchise for the 21st Century.
Basically it’s Blair Witch with zombies for the YouTube generation: a gang of identikit Media Studies brats led by Jason (Josh Close) shooting a crappy mummy movie in the woods when the dead start to really walk. Clamping a camera to his eye, Jason coldly documents events, uploading his footage to the internet as the world goes to hell in a zombie hand-basket.
Moving from Land’s studio budget to a small-scale, hi-def production, Diary opens strong with a bitching scene of zombies attacking paramedics and news crews. Yet the thrills quickly flag, as the camera gimmickry nixes the suspense and cute but misjudged gags (a deaf-and-dumb Amish guy armed with a scythe) play shamelessly to the cheap seats.
Years ago Romero passed on directing the revisionist horror spoof Scream because he couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be funny or scary. Diary’s a belated attempt to get with the times, self-referential spoofery mixed with gory gross-out (best barf-bag moment: a zombie’s eyeballs popping when it’s fried in the head by a hospital defibrillator). It’s sometimes funny (Scott Wentworth’s boozily cynical film professor is a hoot), yet rarely scary.
As always, the zombies are really a metaphor for something else: a critique of the dead-eyed, media-saturated culture where everyone’s a blogger, amateur cameraman or rubbernecking ambulance chaser. The timely (and surprisingly conservative) distrust of the democratisation of the media is hammered home so relentlessly, Romero must reckon we’re all already zombies. George we love you, but if this is all you’ve got maybe it’s time to send the ghouls back to their graveyard…