Romero has given his fans something to take to the grave with them, with five films that are generally contradictory and controversial phenomena. There was “Night” and “Dawn” which are still basically debated and adored, the once despised, but now appreciated “Day” and the rather sub-par “Land,” all leading into “Diary.” Romero’s newest output is a confusing fascinating beast. Never has one of his films completely divided fans before, and admittedly it’s a monster worth observing. It’s both despicable and brilliant, it’s hideous and yet quite apt. “Diary” continues splitting fans that both despise it and adore it for the very same reasons. But is Romero really just the observer here?
Or is he still the coy puppet master fooling us into social commentary? Because at the end of the day, the bad acting, the sharp satire bordering on over the top reminiscent of the classic mall pie fight, and the zombie madness that just feels like classic Romero. Many will hate “Diary” for what it is, but I personally loved it for the light it shines on us as voyeurs, gore hounds, and masses who sit at their computer prepared to swallow the next vicious violent piece of footage. Romero doesn’t quite master the handheld found footage fad that’s become in vogue for horror films, but then he doesn’t seem to want to.
He constantly switches from handheld first person perspective to constantly reminding us we’re only watching a movie; “Diary” begins with the ghoulish five grueling minutes that could very well be a clip on Youtube, as Romero gives us a glimpse at a horrifying incident that was dismissed, abstracted, and ignored by many up until society realizes much too late that the “isolated incidents” occurring around the country are a bonafide zombie apocalypse. Following Romero fashion, “Diary” is not just about the human within the monster but the monster within the human, as our characters become witnesses to and parts of horrific incidents where the end of the world is staring them in the face and the only solution is to blow their brains out.
But there are only so many bullets, and these monsters are endless and relentless. Before long, the dwindling group of survivors are outnumbered and realize the world has all but diminished much too late. “Diary” keeps much of the claustrophobia akin to other Romero outings with pure success as he isn’t reliant on a farm house or the confines of consumerism, but the vast world of technology and the chaos we’ve wrought through our lust for quick information, and insatiable appetite for blood shed and human suffering. Our despicable observer Jason is that symbol who simply will not stop filming, no matter what.
His ego consumes him, and he’s a walking figure of what Romero chastises. He’s the voyeur, the egomaniacal, decadent, apathetic, sleazy, money grubbing, self-righteous vulture who has to have a camera on everything around us losing all sense of reality, and purposely putting his friends in severe danger for the sake of completing his chronicle. “Diary” is his way of saying “You have all the tools for information, all the facilities and abilities to acquire the proper knowledge, and you misuse it, you abuse it, and you use it to exploit each other and allow the real information to disappear.” Most importantly, with all the tools at the character’s disposal, they still never completely understand what this menace is, or when it will stop.
Simultaneously, Romero completely satirizes and criticizes the American government and the ludicrous Homeland Security, barbs not wholly original, but still razor edged. Romero the young filmmakers that accidentally sit smack dab in the middle of the apocalypse the stars and the intruders, while the walking dead are now the stars. By the end every inch of humanity on the planet is gone, not just from the walking dead, but from our survivors. It’s a very divisive and volatile film that only Romero can create to spark his hardcore fans into heated debate, and after the decidedly split fan base, I’m surprised to have found Romero’s controversial fifth entry brilliantly loathsome. Romero’s film is ugly, but then reflections on society always are.