85 mins or so.
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The Zombie Diaries (2007)
27th Aug 07
Three groups of survivors struggle to survive in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak.
Back in January, did you see on the news how they found a case of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus on a farm in our very own England? And as a result they initiated a mass culling of umpteen thousand Bernard Matthews' turkeys? Did it remind you of the whole foot and mouth thing, when you had to wash your feet in that pink stuff if ever you went walking in the countryside? Did you think what a load of fuss assuming, like the rest of us, that nothing really bad like that ever happens in the UK? Well, if that's what you thought and, maybe, if that’s your general opinion of life in this green and pleasant land, Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates' The Zombie Diaries might just be as much of a close to the bone, sweet little eye opener horror movie for you as it is for us.
The film opens, you see, with a radio news broadcast of a recent bird flu viral outbreak played over a montage of Londoners going to work, with the occasional glimpse of a city worker wearing a surgical mask, just like they did in Hong Kong at the height of the SARS epidemic a couple of years ago. Then the movie's actual narrative kicks in, with the story settling on a news team as they head out of London to interview a farmer who’s just been ordered to cull all his poultry by order of the Government. They journey out of London through thick congestion and bicker amongst themselves about nothing in particular while one of the crew named Matt films them on his video camera. Arriving at the farm no one is around, which is a surprise as because the farmer should be expecting them, and Vanessa, the attractive blonde character, has a little freak out because she can't get a reception on her mobile phone. But that's the least of their worries; after discovering that the local village is also strangely deserted and that their car has broken down, they decide to break in to the farm and wait for the owner to return, which seems like a good plan until they hear a strange bumping sound coming from upstairs.
That’s just the opening ten minutes or so of The Zombie Diaries . From here the story moves on, eventually encompassing three groups of characters which initially at least seem unrelated except for the obvious zombie infestation they’ve suddenly found themselves living in. The second group is introduced to us as the scavengers by means of a supplies raid they instigate on a seemingly abandoned village. They consist of Greg and Elizabeth and their mate John, who films on his trusty video camera while they hunt for useful supplies like food, booze and a radio, while casually passing slight of hand social commentary on the stuff they quite literally don’t need any more and happily leave behind. Then it’s back to the car as soon as the zombies start to arrive, although there’s always time for a couple of well placed headshots before they make their getaway.
Moving on the plot then shifts to the last group introduced to us as the survivors. These guys have rallied around a farmhouse, have fortified and have got themselves organized. They scan the radio waves for distress signals, search the surrounding area for more wandering zombies and organize their own scavenger hunts for their supplies. They also have steadfast rules about things like dealing with the threat of contamination, tackling infections and dealing with increasingly unacceptable behaviour inside the group, and it soon becomes clear which of those is the biggest threat to their little bit of sanctuary.
Anyway that's enough plot because, as you've probably already figured, the basic premise of The Zombie Diaries is not unlike a great many zombie flicks that have come before it in terms of the basic set up. I mean, how many zombie films do you know where yesterday everything was peachy but today the living dead walk among us freely? If your answer is all of them then you'd be right; with living dead movies the trick is not what happens in as much as we've all seen umpteen zombie apocalypses over the years. No, the trick instead is in how you tell the tale, how your players react to their new circumstances and, ultimately, thinking up some kind of original twist to keep the critics happy.
Throughout the 80s in particular, zombie movies seemed to have a curious fascination with the cause of the zombie outbreak with a lot of thought being put into that and not much else. The Zombie Diaries too opens with the realisation that the cause here is a mutated strain of the bird flu virus, nicely touching upon our contemporary pandemic fears. Soon however it becomes clear that the bird flu curve ball is in fact just a premise and thankfully not the big twist I was hinting at. The real twist, and ultimately why The Zombie Diaries is such a triumph, is that the whole movie is filmed on a video camera in a 'video diaries' format, and it works so well you wonder why the pairing of diary format and the zombie movie hasn't been done before.
Of course, the diary format and the horror genre have been melded many times, namely in the classic Cannibal Holocaust and very recently in The Last Horror Movie. But the most successful of this cross over genre is undoubtedly The Blair Witch Project, and for that reason alone comparisons between this movie and that are inevitable. It is true that both use the naturally claustrophobic atmosphere a video camera gives you to their advantage with both containing running shaky-cam sequences where it's pretty hard to see what's going on, but whereas Blair Witch is blighted by it's over use of such techniques, The Zombie Diaries uses them sparingly, mainly in the night time action sequences, and then only to ramp up tension. Similarly, whereas Blair Witch has lots of cheap, talking directly into the camera sections, The Zombie Diaries only resorts to that once and even then it comes as more of a nod to Night of the Living Dead, specifically the sequence where Ben recounts him witnessing a group of zombies overpower a gas station. Much cheaper than actually filming the gas station get overrun but nonetheless effective in portraying the horror of the situation because it’s so well acted, this is used in the same way in The Zombie Diaries with similar effectiveness, this time with the story being about a plane crash terrorist event. They don’t miss a trick these low-budget filmmakers, do they?
Other comparisons to the cream of Romero’s work are also inevitable, but then again that’s part and parcel of making a zombie film these days and as such should be expected. The Zombie Diaries however bravely tackles the zombie movie clichés head on, taking the obligatory zombie movie plot devices in its stride while occasionally throwing in a few very original concepts in to the mix to keep us on the edge of our respective seats. The zombie movie set pieces (like the supplies run, the night time zombie onslaught and the body that walks off when no one is paying attention) are all here, as is the usual lack of trust theme between survivors, which mimics the contemporary way we don’t even trust our own neighbours any more pretty well, and because of that the tension escalates nicely right up to the final, and very shocking, end sequence.
Along the way though other themes are explored, including the paranoia associated with infection and dealing with an infected loved one, plus the way people react to the sniff of salvation which may, or may not, actually happen. And all the time you’re also mindful of the wraparound sequence at the beginning, which is concluded at the end, of a platoon of soldiers clearing the farmhouse at which the majority of the movie is set. These sequences are obviously set after the fact, and add a sense of budget to the proceedings, while also adding a sense of closure to the zombie outbreak, giving us a feeling that, at the very least, everything is eventually going to be alright. With a movie as refreshingly bleak in tone as The Zombie Diaries , that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Well shot, well edited and, most surprisingly for such a low-budget effort, well acted, The Zombie Diaries is arguably the best zombie movie ever to come out of the UK. Dark, uncompromising and frighteningly real, this is the kind of straight-faced horror movie that isn’t made as much as it should be these days, and in that respect we at eatmybrains.com are going to plug it to death until it gets that solid distribution deal it deserves. And fingers crossed it does, especially as Romero himself appears to be going down a similar route with his next dead movie, Diary of the Dead. Little is known about that film right now, but it's ironic how much diary format zombie movies are I suppose like buses, in the sense that none come along for ages then two turn up at once. All I can say is that Romero really has to raise his game to come up to Bartlett and Gates' standard as The Zombie Diaries , written and shot before Diary of the Dead was even announced, really raises the bar for serious undead apocalypse movies everywhere. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that the zombies themselves are some of the best we’ve ever seen in a low-budget film, and there are enough headshots on show to keep even the most hardened gorehounds happy. Keep your eyes on eatmybrains.com for news of up coming screenings, DVD release details and other info related to this movie, as this is one film you will not want to miss.
Versions Region 2 disc has just been released. Were you at the Zombie Walk?