The Zombie Diaries (2006)
By: Julian on August 6, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Accent Underground (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 80 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates
Starring: Russell Jones, Craig Stovin, Jonnie Hurn, James Fisher
Screenplay: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates
Country: UK
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Originally conceived as a short film, Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates' debut feature was made for 6000 quid and has been critically lauded as one of the greatest zombie films since the subgenre's renaissance began, in vague terms, with Danny Boyle's picture 28 Days Later in 2002. But don't go pulling out your wallets just yet – The Zombie Diaries is a capable entry into the genre, but, and forgive the pun, the undead have been done to death. There's certainly nothing new here.

The Zombie Diaries is a Cannibal Holocaust-esque horror film where we are viewing the footage of a group of individuals afflicted at various times by the zombie pandemic. The film is divided into three video diaries – diary one is titled 'The Outbreak'. 'The Outbreak' follows a quartet of London-based journalists who report about the virus as Britain becomes infected. The diary is preluded by the reports of scientists on the issue, which was originally believed to be restricted to Asian countries, and the attitude of complacency amongst the public and British government. The reporters are sent to the countryside to chronicle the story of a farmer forced to cull his poultry, but instead find themselves trapped as London is quarantined and the virus rapidly spreads.

Fast-forward a month, and we're into diary two – 'The Scavengers'. A shorter segment than the first, 'Scavengers' follows a married couple who are travelling through the country in search for refuge and supplies. On the way to their next food source, they pick up a hitchhiker with a video camera, who records the grisly adventure.

Last, and most interestingly, is 'The Survivors'. This diary entry begins about mid-way through the picture, and focuses on a larger group of individuals who fight the zombies off with a bit more firepower than their predecessors in entries one and two. However, it's with 'The Survivors' that things really become nasty – a reanimated corpse bites one of their comrades but the crew realise that the undead are the least of their worries.

The first thing that would strike a horror fan when picking up a copy of The Zombie Diaries is its face-value similarity to George Romero's latest film Diary of the Dead, however Bartlett and Gates have claimed their story emerged first. There's been a great deal of critical acclaim for this picture, particularly online, but most of it is pretty hyperbolic. 'The best zombie film ever'? Get the fuck out of here. The Zombie Diaries is competent, but not much more, riffing on stuff like The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust at best, at worst, lifting the concept to the point of visual plagiarism, and restricting itself to the genre's formula for most of its duration.

That said, there is one particular plot line that I loved, setting The Zombie Diaries apart from some of its indie counterparts. Concluding 'The Survivors' and the film itself, Bartlett and Gates have made an incredibly grim comment on the rampant lawlessness that invariably plagues rapidly degenerating societies – in earlier zombie films, we've seen looting and robbery en masse, but nothing to this extent. The plot line alone almost single-handedly elevates The Zombie Diaries above numerous others of its ilk and, while it's flawed in execution, Bartlett and Gates do a commendable job as screenwriters in realising this new concept.

In many respects, there's an uncharacteristic realism to The Zombie Diaries – the oft-recycled concept of a 'disease' turning the population into mewling flesh-eaters is transposed into society thus that the general public and the government themselves are entirely unworried about the disease, right until the day that panic sets in. We've seen similar responses during the SARS and bird-flu epidemics as they were alternately brushed off and given hysterical 'doom and gloom' significance by the authorities, and this disturbing element rings true in The Zombie Diaries' opening minutes.

Gates is on cinematography duties here, under the pseudonym 'George Carpenter', and his method recalls Cloverfield. The handheld camerawork is equally nauseating and unappealing in this film, moments of stillness to capture a zombie massacre or emotional moment coming as a welcome respite. However, I did enjoy the fact that the film was shot on DV and, according to Bartlett, his intention was to exploit that medium's functions, as opposed to attempt to conceal what is considered a cheap and aesthetically unappealing alternative to celluloid.

The Zombie Diaries is an average film, both technically and thematically. Having Gates lens the picture on digital wasn't a poor decision in itself (in fact, for this purpose, it was a very good one), but the dodgy faux-documentary visuals were. The direction is taut even if the first hour or so is typical, uninspired zombie fare that we've seen done far better. However, The Zombie Diaries could be worth a rental to the interested based on the concluding twenty minutes alone – we are dealt a jarring turn of events that have had critics praise the film endlessly.

The picture has been presented in 1:85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It looks good, with sharp, vibrant colours, but it'd be prudent to note that this has been shot on video, and digital artefacts are present which were presumably added intentionally for effect.
An English 2.0 Dolby audio track. Sound is variable, and you'll have to crank it up to hear dialogue and toggle down during scenes of wham-bam action.
Extra Features
The Zombie Diaries comes with a good special features package here. Included are commentaries by the directors and the cast, which, while informative, are strictly for the diehard fans of the picture. Deleted scenes and a 56 making-of featurette have also been included. An impressive set.

The cover slick cites a running time of 85 minutes; the film only runs for 81. This is a misprint, not the product of censorship.

Accent Underground is rapidly becoming a label to watch. Seemingly dedicated to seeing indie horror/cult features see the light of day on Region 4, their catalogue has included Stu Simpson's audacious debut feature The Demonsamongus and American independent horror flick Five Across the Eyes since they opened their doors in August 2007.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
An adequate zombie flick, but I'd like to think I'm not the sort of dolt who can dumbly devour film concepts churned out ad nauseum courtesy of directors who are, a) clearly devoid of intellectual capacity, or b) milking the cash cow. It's clear that The Zombie Diaries is in the latter camp (the duo are no idiots; exemplified in the final twist), and it's admirable to see Bartlett and Gates attempt to bring new goodies to the table – but generally speaking, the film is still a redux nonetheless. The camerawork is poor whether that was a stylistic choice or not, but there's enough here to recommend The Zombie Diaries for zombie aficionados.

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