Zombie flicks are coming at us fast and furious these days, all inspired in some way, shape, or form by the work of series progenitor, George A. Romero. While Romero certainly didn’t invent the zombie film, his “Night of the Living Dead” defined the genre, putting forth the “rules” by which the majority of zombie films that followed would live by. While few filmmakers have strayed from Romero’s winning formula, there are those who occasionally offer up a novel twist, as in the case of “The Zombie Diaries”, which features a verite’ style documentary approach ala’ “The Blair Witch Project”. And, before you can say “Romero already did that with ‘Diary of the Dead’”, it should be noted that The Zombie Diaries came out a year earlier.
Set in a Britain overrun by an undead scourge, The Zombie Diaries consists of “footage” obtained from three different cameras, representing the experiences of three different groups. There’s the “Outbreak” footage, which follows a group of documentary filmmakers who, while on an assignment in the countryside, discover that London has fallen victim to a plague that’s been sweeping the rest of the world. As our intrepid reporters begin to realize the gravity of their situation, we are then shown footage from “The Scavengers”, which jumps ahead to one month after the outbreak, and shows us a trio of survivors making a trip into a nearby town to load up on supplies. The final assemblage of footage comes from “The Survivors”, and showcases a small band of disparate personalities defending their farm from roving bands of zombies. The film jumps around from segment to segment, which eventually dovetail neatly together thanks to a somewhat surprising twist.
The Zombie Diaries is a film that makes its budgetary restraints work in its favor by employing the gimmick of having the footage come from handheld cameras. The “found footage” element may not be anything new, but its effectiveness here cannot be denied, as many of the film’s most effective scares - like when a camera violently pans toward an approaching zombie – are a direct result of this economical approach.
The verite’ style also helps to mask the lesser effects and occasionally bad zombie make-up (although some of the effects are surprisingly good). The performances in the film range from the subdued to the borderline hysterical, and the seemingly improvised script has characters making some laughably bad decisions (why is it, exactly, that the people holding these cameras never stop filming?), but, for the most part, directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates get a lot of bang for their buck, and deliver a fairly suspenseful flick that’s equal parts horror movie and character study.
Comparisons between this film and Romero’s Diary of the Dead are inevitable, but they’re really quite different in terms of both style and substance. Romero’s film is, as always, steeped in social satire, and never quite “feels” like the documentary it’s supposed to be (or, for that matter, seems as though it’s being shot by anything less than a professional lensmen). The Zombie Diaries, on the other hand, has a gritty, down and dirty style that shares more in common with Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”, and better captures the whole “fly on the wall” style Romero seemed to be aiming for. I wouldn’t say it’s a better film, but I will say that The Zombie Diaries is the more authentic one, as well as a bit of a minor miracle in that it works so well with merely a fraction of Romero’s already low budget.
The DVD from Dimension’s Extreme imprint offers up a nice selection of extras, including a feature-length commentary from the filmmakers, another commentary from the cast, a making of featurette, deleted scene, and theatrical trailer.