Generation MySpace meets the cannibal dead in George Romero's faux-verite reboot of his seminal zombie series, a polarizing meditation on life and death in the infinitely mediated world of blogs, file sharing and incessant virtual connection.
The film within the film, University of Pittsburgh student Jason Creed's (Joshua Close) "The Death of Death," begins with a bootleg news clip: A local reporter doing bored stand up, cops hanging, EMTs removing the sheeted bodies of an immigrant family from a non-descript apartment building. Then the bodies get up: Bullets, torn and bleeding flesh, chaos… the footage never aired, but the cameraman uploaded it on the sly. Narrator Debra (Michelle Morgan) tells us that she finished Jason's film; the footage is all real, but she cut it and goosed it with spooky music and sound effects to scare you. Because you should be scared. Cut to Jason directing a mummy movie in the dark, late-night woods as the radio crackles with reports of reanimated corpses. It has to be a joke, but it's creepy and if something's going on, rich boy Ridley (Philip Riccio) intends to weather it behind the heavily fortified doors of his family's vast Philadelphia mansion – everyone's invited, but only Francine (Megan Park) accepts. The others, including Texas firecracker Tracy (Amy Lalonde) and her boyfriend, Gordo (Chris Violette); belligerent Tony (Shawn Roberts) from Queens; techie Eliot (Joe Dinicol) and alcoholic, self-loathing Professor Maxwell (Scott Wentworth), pile into the battered RV of diffident classmate Mary (Tatiana Maslany) and hit the road. Cell networks are crashing, mainstream news outlets are clogged with official denials and the same old rumors of radiation and viral strains. Fanatics rule the radio airwaves and the blogosphere seethes with samizat footage of shambling zombies and panicked survivors. In the chaos of information overload, aspiring documentarian Jason finds his mission: To make sure the truth – about the dead, the marauding National Guard, the looters and hoarders, the redneck survivalists and the compete and utter failure of global government -- gets out there, no matter what the cost.
DIARY opened in the wake of CLOVERFIELD (2008), REDACTED (2007) and, of course, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), but Romero is no latecomer to the table: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) is shot through with contradictory, useless and outright mendacious media coverage of the zombie holocaust. Of course that's Romero in the revisionist version of the opening newscast, as a top cop explaining that those supposed "zombies" were just messed up folks -- they weren't dead until his men killed them. What divides opinion is the film's tone: Are those naive, portentous pronouncements about media, voyeurism and the numbing, pornographic allure of atrocity footage a sly reflection of the YouTube generation's boundary-free narcissism and callow youth, or evidence that Romero – never one to underplay a metaphor – has become a hectoring, tin-eared fogey? When in doubt, look to the images: Some – like the closer of a half-head strung up by its hair for target practice, eyes still seeing, are so vividly on message they hurt. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh