What's it about?
A bunch of film students - people who actually know how to hold a camera steady for a change - are out and about in the woods shooting a mummy movie. Cue Romero having a bit of fast & free fun with dialogue regarding fast monsters sucking copiously. Soon enough though, over the radio, fecal matter starts getting flung at cooling devices, as a genuinely palpable sense of tension descends upon our protagonists.
After a literally wonky start, the director of the in-movie documentary The Death of Death goes into disaster coverage mode - something any filmmaker can relate to, the overpowering need to document chaos for future dissection. We begin to see the cracks in society take hold as the lack of concrete information causes our film students to panic while their blackly-comic arse-kicking professor tags along, hip-flask at the ready.
As the film progresses, society begins to fall apart. Some immediately fall victim to the undead, some come-a-cropper against human foes as the government attempts to cover the whole thing up.
The central theme of a media-saturated society are present and central in Diary of the Dead. One man's ham-fisted is another man's up-front & honest. Fellow filmmakers amongst the audience should especially find depth in the subject matter, I know I did. The constant, swirling media circus is a beast of both good and evil. Some use their cameras and the internet for sick kicks (e.g. the rednecks), and some use it to provide the truth (our protagonists) as the government attempt to hide it from the people.
The gore - oh the gore - while the frequency is much lower than Land of the Dead, the "ho-ho-ho-YES!" factor (as I like to call it) is nothing but strong. Each major gore scene is a memorable one (and at times immensely entertaining for the genre fans).
It bounds along at a fair pace, you neither feel cheated nor over-fed with the running time, and once you get used to Romero's change of pace (it took me a good 15 or 20 minutes to get settled) it's all solid stuff.
It's low budget, we all knew that from the start, and while Romero and Co are clearly having a great laugh being fast, free and loose, the acting can at times show it's indie credentials. Some moments are better than others, would be a fair description. While some characters can appear wooden, or perhaps just wet behind the ears (in terms of acting experience), others keep you drawn into the movie at hand.
As a filmmaker myself, I did notice several moments where the 'first person perspective' mode was broken. Usually moments in editing, such as a scene being cut together from apparently one camera, but if it had been for real it would have been two cameras. It's hard to explain to the uninitiated, but as one of those 'on the inside' you do spy several such moments that break the FPS framework. However, the FPS aesthetic is an incredibly hard gimmick to pull off successfully - fortunately Romero handles it well enough to keep you wrapped up in proceedings.
There are certain elements that feel a tad forced (e.g. the narrator explaining the use of (non-diagetic) music to scare the viewer), and there are times when certain characters do stupid things ... or a scene might feel somewhat forced (the, admittedly quite entertaining, woodland chase sequence near the end being one example that doesn't quite sit comfortably within the film).
A solid effort from Romero. It's nothing exceptionally new - Blair Witch stole the FPS thunder years ago, after all - but it is interesting to see GAR take something 'old' - his zombies - and inject them into something new to him - the FPS aesthetic.
Despite some rough edges (certain characters or scenes throughout), it provides the viewer with quality entertainment. Horror with a brain - something which is sorely lacking in today's world of:
A) Slaughter movies such as Hostel or SAW IV, which go for the gut but not for the brain.
B) Action-Horror movies such as the Dawn remake, which often mash the two opposing genres together clumsily with, again, no consideration for higher thought than "that exploded, cool".
A must-see for Romero fans, without a doubt. Land Haters are more likely to 'do a 180 opinion' than Land Lovers perhaps. A solid effort, and a fair 3.5/5 score (with a 0.5 either way if you want to be particularly fussy or fawning).