George A. Romero's new movie, Diary of the Dead, isn't really by Romero. It's not even called Diary of the Dead. It's actually called The Death of Death, and it's by ambitious student filmmaker Jason (Joshua Close), who happens to already be shooting a horror movie when zombie o' clock rolls around. At least that's the conceit of Diary, a supposedly self-filmed tale that was completed long before Cloverfield stomped its way across New York City but will no doubt be seen as hooking onto that film's monster success.
Jason and his film-school buddies including his take-charge girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan) first learn about the zombie outbreak from a radio broadcast. As the film progresses (it's a road movie, with much chugging down rural routes in a Winnebago), the kids remain connected to the outside world via television and, more important, the Internet, portrayed as the only reliable information source as chaos takes over and cell phones go dead.
While there are some juicy zombie scenes and a few crowd-pleasing moments (nobody who sees Diary will forget the Amish guy), the film is less concerned with glorious gore than, say, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. Romero is known for making horror films "with an underlying thread of social satire" (just like Diary protagonist Jason), but here the thread is laid completely bare. Debra's somber voice-over tends to overexplain, uh, everything; as in Cloverfield, none of the characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic, and the device of having the camera be part of the story rapidly becomes annoying.
Still, you gotta give the director props for his message, no matter how obviously he states it. Most horror films that try to make a statement stop at a vague pronouncement about the world being fucked. Romero's smart enough to zero in on a particular problem Internet-age information overload! and incorporate it in a story that manages to implicate the viewer at the same time. If we're witnessing The Death of Death, are we not the intended audience that kept Jason's hand firmly on the record button even as his friends died around him?
DIARY OF THE DEAD
Opens Fri/15 in Bay Area theaters