I was majorly intrigued by George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead‘s premise. Not just because it’s Romero, but because it’s seen entirely through the digital camera lens of student filmmakers. A Cloverfield-esque approach to zombie movies? What’s not to get excited about? Diary was obviously shot on a shoestring budget and, early in his career, Romero did wonders working around non-existent production values. But here, he embraces it too eagerly. Constant stilted voiceovers, amateurish acting, and tons of stock footage supposedly creates the illusion that this is a raw, unadulterated filmmaking. Instead, these tacky flourishes consistently distract and pull the viewer out of the movie. The whole concept is interesting but completely falls apart even before the first half is over. If your girlfriend is being zombie mauled and screaming for help, wouldn’t you — oh, I don’t know — put down your damn camera?
Diary at times feels like it’s supposed to be a parody of zombie films, but it certainly doesn’t have enough jokes. And there are barely any scares. What’s surprising is how talky this whole affair is. Most of the movie is spent watching these jerks squabble and argue. Day of the Dead somewhat suffered from the same problem, but it also had that fantastic zombie onslaught at the end. Diary just peters out (you’ve never seen so few zombies in a zombie flick), recycling the same ending Romero used in the original Night of the Living Dead. Such a cruel disappointment.
Lars and the Real Girl: serious contender for best film of the festival. At first, the movie seemed too good to be true: it hads a unique premise, stars the always reliable Ryan Gosling, and had a stupendous trailer. Surely, the other shoe would have to drop and the movie — about a delusional introvert named Lars (Gosling) who wheelchairs a blow-up doll around as his new girlfriend much to the horror of his family and coworkers — would end up being a one-joke quirkfest. The movie is slow to start and it does slightly nudge the audience to laugh at Lars. But it gets better and better with each passing scene. Its dialogue feels real and its characters are all honestly drawn. There were disturbing scenes which got me down that the rest of the audience would laugh at, and there were scenes I laughed out loud at as everyone else was tearing up. That’s what I especially admire about Lars. It incredibly never wavers from the perfect tone: it’s funny, creepy, and sweet all at once, all the time.