A date with Diary Of The Dead

Poster for Diary Of The DeadThe nice lady in the chemist handed me a packet of travel sickness pills.

“These might make you drowsy. You’re not driving, are you?”

“No, I’m not driving.”

What I neglected to mention was that I wasn’t travelling at all – not in the physical sense, anyway. My plan was to pop a pill, sit in a darkened cinema and spend 90 minutes goggling George A Romero’s Diary Of The Dead – hopefully without puking at the handheld camera work that’s marred my enjoyment of recent, similarly styled films.

Romero’s fifth ‘Dead’ movie takes a year-zero approach to a worldwide zombie outbreak: it’s a reset for the series, rather than a continuation, and most of what’s on screen purports to be shot by the story’s characters. After the gloss of 2005’s Land Of The Dead, Diary is an attempt by Romero to return to his roots and make a truly independent, low-budget, interference-free zombie film.

The result is a densely packed, 90-minute road movie with more overt social commentary than any previous entry in the series (in parts there are shades of Cannibal Holocaust) – plus a glut of memorable images and inspired zombie deaths. Of course, you can take out a ghoul by simply shooting ’em in the head, but there are much more inventive ways to destroy their brains, so why not? The reboot takes Romero’s zombies back to their unthinking, instinctive, flesh-ripping best and even squeezes in a dig at fast-moving members of the undead.

For the most part, the human characters aren’t as well-defined as those from the original trilogy, or even Land, so when the inevitable happens it’s nowhere near as gut-wrenching as some of the demises from Night, Dawn and Day. But a few characters manage to make their mark beyond zombie bait, and no one can be labelled ‘annoying’, which is a blessing in a modern genre movie.

Unfortunately, the structure of the film – it’s presented as a film within a film, called The Death Of Death – gives away the fate of two characters. But the end still satisfies (I have to wonder whether a certain piece of wordplay was responsible for the whole idea), and the coda gives the audience one of the most memorable images from any of Romero’s zombie films to date.

Unfortunately, Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield, released in the UK a few weeks previously, has stolen some of Diary’s thunder – viewers are practically obliged to draw comparisons – and last year’s Brit production The Zombie Diaries was based on a very similar idea. It doesn’t matter who was first to produce a finished script; in the public’s mind the points for originality are awarded to the first film past the post. Diary Of The Dead must sink or swim purely on its execution. For this viewer, it swims.

Oh, and ‘look, Mum, no puke!’. Or drowsiness. Kwells: my new best friend.

Here’s the trailer:

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