The Zombie Diaries (2006)
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The Zombie Diaries is bound to face comparison with George A Romero's Diary of the Dead (2007). So we have a low budget film from two unknown newcomers vs the latest zombie movie from the grand master of the genre. There should be no contest, yet my vote goes to the newcomers.
Like Diary.., The Zombie Diaries uses faux cinéma vérité style to tell its story through video footage taken by witnesses. However whereas Diary... uses this for crude social commentary and ultimately creates a feeling of disassociated unreality, in this film the first person viewpoint really works to draw you in. This is particularly effective during the moments of panic where all you can see are confused images and glimpses of faces in the dark. There are times when having a low budget is a positive advantage and this is one of them.
One important thing to note is that this movie is called The Zombie Diaries, plural. There are several different diaries filmed at different times by different people. Although these are indicated in the film ("Day 1: The Outbreak", "Day 2: The Scavengers", "Day 3: The Survivors") the fact that we rarely see or hear from the camera operator makes it easy to get confused about what is a vital plot element.
The story is, for the most part, pretty familiar. Things start with rumours of some bird flu type super-virus spreading in Asia and we get vox pop interviews showing the reactions of a fairly indifferent British public. Gradually it becomes clear that things are more serious than they seem. A rumoured outbreak in New York is followed by another in London which results in a whole district being cordoned off. Our first film crew wisely head out of the city and the traditional sequence of events begins to unwind.
Although this is for the most part standard zombie story fare, the whole thing is spiced up by a nice touch of social commentary that's present throughout most of the film but only becomes evident towards the end. I won't say any more about the story, suffice to say that it's a very well written script that successfully rings the changes on the genre. The direction is basic yet effective and highly atmospheric, music is used sparingly in a way that enhances the atmosphere. Don't expect zombie hordes or a blood filled gorefest, this film is more low key and decidedly bleak.
The Zombie Diaries has a huge amount going for it. There is, unfortunately, one major problem: the acting. It isn't just bad, it's awful. With two honourable exceptions (Imogen Church as Sue and Russell Jones as Goke) most of the main cast are teeth grindingly bad. They're great at running around being scared yet simply don't know how to deliver a line. It's a real shame as with decent actors this would definitely have been a classic movie. As it is, the bad acting may well prevent people from persevering - certainly it's received a lot of negative reviews.
The Zombie Diaries is one of the most refreshingly different and intelligent zombie movies I've seen in a long while. Just hold your nose whilst watching it to avoid the stench of decomposing acting careers.