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The Zombie Diaries (2006)
Writers and directors: Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

This British independent film, directed by Kevin Gates and Michael Bartlett, has taken some heat because its plotline derives not so much from the principal theme, the rise of the living dead, but rather its twist ending, in which the real monsters turn out to be a couple of psychopaths. Hardcore zombie fans expecting another riff on the living dead will be disappointed. However, those who picked up on Romero's theme that humanity is infinitely more dangerous that any zombie horde (Ben's death in Night Of The Living Dead, and the motorcycle gang's assault on the mall in Dawn Of The Dead) will dig this movie.

Structurally, the film is a cross between Night Of The Living Dead and The Blair Witch Project. It takes place in Britain but does not take any substantial riffs from the 28 Days Later franchise. The film consists of three parts, plus an intro and a coda that tie the theme together nicely. The first chapter, titled 'The Outbreak', chronicles a documentary crew's visit to a farmhouse just outside of London, where the zombie epidemic is just getting started. The camerawork is shaky, as the directors try to evoke a realistic approach, but after a while the jarring motions become tedious and annoying. The dialogue is a bit stilted but delivered with conviction. When the zombies do arrive, they are well done, but once again the raucous motions of the camera detract from the action.

The second chapter, 'The Scavengers', takes place later, as three survivors (one American and two Brits) battle zombies while searching for food and radio parts. This portion of the film fares well, capturing the gritty nature of survival and the desperation surely felt when overwhelmed with such a disaster. The actors here do a very good job and the zombie effects really work well. Interestingly, the camerawork is not as jarring here, and as a result the action comes across effectively.

The final chapter, 'The Survivors', brings together plotlines from the first two chapters and ties everything together. The plot involves a larger group of people months after the zombie plague has ravaged most of Britain. Trapped on a farm, the survivors battle an endless onslaught of zombies, not realising that they have been invaded from within by a pair of psychopaths who subsequently rape, torture, and murder the survivors from within.

Filmed on a shoestring budget, The Zombie Diaries works well with respect to suspense. The Tarantino style of creating separate chapters that 'feed' into each other works well, but the shaky camerawork, although giving the film an authentic feel, at times disrupts much of the tension. The actors are uniformly solid, but sometimes the adlibbing bogs things down. Makeup effects vary, with some of the work all-too obvious, but viewers who buy into the story will not notice. It's like watching an episode of Doctor Who. Once bought into the story, the effects really do not matter.

If anything, The Zombie Diaries aptly points out what Romero did back in Night Of The Living Dead, or what Fran noted in Dawn Of The Dead ("We're doing this to ourselves"): it's not the zombies that subsequently will consume humanity - humanity will consume itself.

The Zombie Diaries on DVD

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