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Zombies + YouTube = ?
This overseas import from our British cousins attempts to breathe life into the emaciated, shambling corpse that is the zombie movie.
Facts of the Case
Sometime—in the near future perhaps—a terrifying virus rips through the United Kingdom, turning people into flesh-eating zombies that move at the speed of a drunken toddler. The action of Zombie Diaries is told through multiple hand-held camera sequences, from the points of view of different groups of survivors, all on their own path to escape the threat of zombification and/or vicious, bloody disembowelment and head-chewing.
MISLEADING DISC COVER WARNING: If you were to pass this film by on your local video disc retailer, you'll notice a bald UFC-type wearing some kind of sweet biohazard shirt, a shotgun in one hand and a high-caliber pistol in the other, wandering through an apocalyptic wasteland, evidently about to dispatch some serious ammunition into the walking dead that are eyeing him warily off to the side.
This movie is not like that. It's visceral, sure, but not in a slam-bang action-horror kind of way. Zombie Diaries generates its tension from the rawness of the and realness of the way its shot—that is, it's a guerilla-style piece of horror filmmaking. The directors have employed a documentary-like approach to tell their story. This not only let them play to the low budget they had, but offer them the opportunity to try something (fairly) new with the genre.
Obviously, these fake documentary gimmicks have been gaining some traction, and ever since The Blair Witch Project I can honestly say I have little patience for them. The very though of sitting through Cloverfield made me reach for the Dramamine. Also, I have a really hard time suspending disbelief that someone had the clarity of mind and artistic sensibility to keep their video camera aloft and pointed at the action even when their life is in extreme danger.
Zombie Diaries is still susceptible to these shortcomings—it's sometimes difficult to follow the action and to think that these people keep their cameras rolling (and charged up, sans power!) at all times, even when painful, flesh-rending death is seconds away, is an exercise in massive disbelief suspension.
But if you can get past those built-in irritants, I think there is something worthwhile here to check out. I typically ask myself two questions when dealing with the latest zombie movie: Does it do anything even slightly innovative within a tired genre? And is it a successful innovation?
It's a yes on both counts. The hand-held camera angle works well, and facilitates some effective jump scares. And the rawness of the footage builds a nice sense of fear and uncertainty.
The zombies are your garden-variety slow-movers, and you only see one or two at a time; as a force they're not terribly frightening. But as the film shakes out a new villain emerges—fans of the genre won't be too shocked over this particular reveal—and this heavy is actually a lot more sinister than the undead.
The widescreen transfer looks as nice as you can expect when you're dealing with DV-quality footage and the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround is subdued, but pops when it needs to. Extras: two commentary tracks, one with the filmmakers and one with the cast; deleted scenes; and a well-done, in-depth, four-part making-of documentary.
It's not a thrill ride or an epic tale of the undead, but Zombie Diaries tells an interesting story with a unique approach.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• Two Commentaries
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