Unable to leave fans with the disappointing Land of the Dead, George Romero revives the flesh-eating deceased in Diary of the Dead.
The Toronto International Film Festival hosted the film’s world premiere to a standing ovation and record attendance by the undead, which shambled across the red carpet and into the seats prior to the screening.
His first independently produced zombie film in over two decades, Romero says, “doing this film was very liberating… [It was] getting to do a film exactly how I want to do it.” And he wanted to take audiences back to the very beginning – the first days the dead began to walk the earth.
As Romero describes it, the film is about a group of “college students filming a school project when the shit hits the fan.” The students are shooting a horror movie when details of the dead rising begin to appear on news stations. Their first instinct is to deny the reports, calling it a hoax, but they soon realize it is real and worse than they could ever imagine. Jason (Joshua Close) instantly begins to document the apocalyptic events. It is this documentary-style storytelling Romero uses to explore the panic that emerges.
As usual, the government and military prove inefficient to handle the situation. Their first instinct is deny, deny, deny: “It is believed to be a virus that causes mass psychosis.” When it becomes too evident to deny, they reassert their control over things and assure the population they will take care of it. That is the last you hear of them.
Romero diverges somewhat from the structure of previous living dead films by introducing a fair amount of comedy into an otherwise serious story. This change, however, was welcomed by the audience with laughter and applause. Furthermore, Romero is of the old school of thought when it comes to gore: [it is] “more affecting when it’s occasional.” Therefore, scenes of brains flying out the backs of zombies’ skulls are interspersed with the characters’ expressions of emotion and friendship as they journey to homes that no longer exist.
The previous living dead films were rife with political and social commentary. Romero says he “tr[ies] to do snapshots of what’s happening in North America right now.” The 21st century is the information age. Technology is everywhere, connecting everyone around the world. When people can no longer trust or look to authorities for help, they turn to each other. Jason argues his obsessive need to document everything is an attempt to save the lives of others by showing them the truth and what they can do to help themselves. “All that’s left is to record what’s happening for whoever remains when it’s over.”
Romero also chooses to return to another forgotten horror tradition: casting little known actors rather than big name celebrities. Shot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada the film features a lot of young, homegrown talent in Close, Joe Dinicol, Michelle Morgan and Shawn Roberts. In addition, listen carefully to the voiceovers in the film; cult directors, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Pegg, Tom Savini, and Quentin Tarantino provide some of the commentaries.
As Romero’s first film, Night of the Living Dead, ended by questioning the quality of the human race, so too does his latest. After viewing some footage, narrator Debra (Morgan) asks: “Are we worth saving?” I don’t know, but this film is definitely worth watching.