Monday, December 28, 2009


This atmospheric but abysmal British-produced zombie epic endeavors to conceal its threadbare budget by lensing everything from the perspective of the lout lugging around the video camera. Indeed, "The Zombie Diaries" (* out of ****) amounts to another of those queasy first-person photography movies that may send you screaming to your medicine cabinet for Dramamine owing to its nausea-inducing camerawork. Little distinguishes “The Zombie Diaries.” What little value the tremulous first-person photography contributes to this lukewarm chiller is far surpassed by its hopeless shallow narrative. The story appears to be broken into three video diaries about survivors of a mysterious virus that has transformed many of their countrymen into blood-splattered zombies. Unfortunately, freshman co-directors & co-writers Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates clutter up their narrative with too many characters and none make an impression. Furthermore, these are static, one-dimensional characters so they never engage our sympathy. The survival of one of the characters doesn’t offset the fact that the villains escape without a scratch. Ironically, the zombies pose less of a danger to our protagonist than some other humans. Mind you, a zombie movie were the zombies present less of a threat than humans is rather anticlimactic.

“The Zombie Diaries” is book-ended by scenes of cammo-clad soldiers surrounding a barn. The filmmakers then shift to a series of interviews about the mysterious virus and we learn that nobody knows if the virus is airborne, waterborne, or in contaminated food. Initially, a news crew cruises from London into the country to shoot an interview with a poultry farmer who has had to cull his chickens. When they arrive, the news crew finds nobody at home. Naturally, one of them complains that they have missed the bigger story in London. They find themselves isolated in the sticks and their cell phones don’t work. Bartlett and Gates know how to set up a situation, but the pay-off generates no sizzle. Eventually, they return to the chicken farm and discover to their horror that the gut-munching has begun. This is where the first zombie inserts herself into the narrative. The narrative shifts to a month later and we are riding in a car with three characters that bear no relation to the news crew. John, Elizabeth, and the videographer are out scavenging for food because they have run out of anything to eat. They enter a deserted town, hit the grocery, and load up on food before the zombies appear. The third diary concerns four survivors. They are look like they are simply hunting zombies. The third diary shifts back to the second and zombie bites John and they chow down on Elizabeth. The videographer and John vanish into the woods, but the videographer has to kill John because the latter is too far gone. About 13 minutes before “The Zombie Diaries” concludes, the narrative leaps back to the news crew as they meet Goke and Manny. By now one of the news crew has gone missing and Goke kills Andy.

Obviously, if you are not a fan of zombie movies, then you should not watch this film. The only reason anybody should waste their time on this 81-minute potboiler is that they are die-hard zombie fans. Nevertheless, even zombie fans may their appetite blunted by the vertigo-inducing camera-work and a needlessly complicated plot. Bartlett and Gates may have been the first to capitalize on this first-person shooting gimmick for zombie movies in the venerable tradition of movies like "84 Charlie Mopic," "The Blair Witch Project," and "Cloverfield." The Spanish film “REC,” however, showed more imagination with their application. Unfortunately, very little makes sense and there is not anything dynamic enough about the subject matter or the presentation to warrant more than a single viewing, much less single this saga out for honorable mention. Okay, the Dimension Studios DVD contains two commentary tracks featuring the two directors and the cast. The Bartlett & Gates commentary could serve as a useful primer about the logistical problems involved with movie production. Sadly, this writer/director duo had more potential than they could deliver in cinematic form. Similarly, a decent cast is wasted because we gain no insight into their flat characters, least of all the murderous Goke.

Most of the action has the participants knocking off the zombies as they shamble into sight like a bad nightmare. For the record, the zombies here are old school; they stagger along with little momentum like the zombies in the George Romeo classics. Unlike "Night of the Living Dead" or its sequels, the plague of zombies is attributed here to a flu-like virus, an obvious homage to the half-baked but ultimately superior Danny Boyle movie "28 Days Later." The blood & gore remains minimal, and the worst you see is a zombie munching on intestines. The hysteria that this hand-held, pseudo-documentary approach strives to induce falls short of the mark. Bartlett and Gates show little flair in their use of suspense. The appearance of the first zombie is only mildly shocking. This zombie doesn’t lurch at the camera. Instead, it poses for it and our heroes clear out of the room before it can inflict itself on them. Indeed, it looks precisely like a bunch of lads went into the woods to make just another mediocre zombie movie.

"The Zombie Diaries" qualifies as a monotonous film without a trace of humor but more importantly a shred of suspense. The villains get away so there is no sense of closure. One last thing that needs to be discussed is the cover art for the DVD that depicts a man in a vest with a pump-action shotgun. There is no man in a vest with a pump-action shotgun. Moreover, scenes on the back cover show zombies rampaging through London, but no zombies are ever shown in London. The overall effect of "The Zombie Diaries" is forgettable. An infinitely better movie in the same mode is the Spanish zombie movie "REC" that was later remade in America as "Quarantine." These two films were shot looking through a video news camera.

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