There is a scene early on in Diary of the Dead where a TV news cameraman orders that an ambulance be moved out of his shot because it's blocking his view of the corpses being removed from a murder scene; the ambulance driver apologetically complies. And that pretty much sets the tone for the whole piece. This is not really a film about zombies — although there are plenty of those, and most of them go squish and splat. No, at its heart Diary is a film about the modern media-obsessed world and how it dominates our lives.
We now live in a world of 24-hour TV news channels, the internet, YouTube and video cameras on our mobile phones. It's a world that didn't exist when Romero created his first zombie masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead, back in 1968. But it's a world he takes full advantage of as he goes back to his roots for a non-studio, low-budget reboot of the franchise. The "heroes" of Diary are a bunch of college film students who are shooting a monster movie in the woods when the news breaks that the dead have started to rise. Cue a cross-country trip to get back to their families that sees our intrepid bunch encounter obstacles ranging from a suicidal friend and a deaf Amish farmer to a band of righteous "brothers" and a nasty litte group of trigger-happy National Guard soldiers. And zombies. Lots and lots of shambling, flesh-eating zombies. And once again Romero finds lots of new and inventive ways to despatch his undead hordes, be it a scythe through the face or a defibrilator pulse that pops out the eyeballs or a brain-melting jar of acid.
The film owes more to The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield than the previous outings in the Dead series, and that's where it falls down a little. I loved the most recent entry, Land of the Dead, and was intrigued by where Romero seemed to be taking his zombies — they were starting to be able to think, get organised, co-operate and use weapons. I really would love a sequel to that, maybe with the zombies outnumbering the living and being in charge ... now that could be interesting (and George, if you're reading this ... if you DO eventually make that film, I want a credit please, or at least make me a zombie extra). Saying that, though, there's a touch more realism here than in a film like Cloverfield — such as the camera batteries here actually needing to be recharged every so often, and the kids' Winnebago needing to be refuelled. There's lots of nice cameos from Romero's buddies, too — such as Stephen King, Simon Pegg, Wes Craven and Quentin Tarantino. But the film is far from perfect. The central message — that people today are already a bunch of braindead zombies — is delivered like a sledgehammer; and despite the lashings of lovely gore, the film lacks real scares, and the cast are just not engaging enough to make us care about them or their plight.