Reviews of film screening during the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Diary of the Dead
Writer/director John Sayles has always had a remarkable ability to create a sense of place in his multi-narrative films. In Honeydripper it is the small cotton-picking town of Harmony in 1950s Alabama that gets the Sayles treatment. While Sayles has previously flirted with various generic conventions in order to either subvert them or facilitate the exploration of particular subtexts, Honeydripper is far more conventional and ultimately resembles a classic Hollywood backstage musical. Despite the early promise of numerous other storylines, the film’s overall focus is on the lead up to one night of live music that will determine the fate of the failing Honeydripper night club. Other issues such as racial segregation, worker exploitation, religious fervour and poverty are touched upon but under explored. Honeydripper is enjoyable enough but it is a lesser Sayles film.
Legendary horror writer/director George A. Romero returns to his beloved zombie genre for the fifth time. Although Romero had more creative control on Diary of the Dead than he did on his previous zombie film, the big budget Land of the Dead, he makes the same mistake of making his political statement too overt rather confining it to the subtext like he did so successfully in his earlier films. This time Romero is commenting on media manipulation and our obsession with new media so like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the film is a compilation of raw footage from home movie cameras, mobile phones and surveillance tapes. This may have worked better if it was not for the fact that the characters spend way too much time debating the ethics of filming the zombie inspired carnage erupting around them. Nevertheless, the film is overall fun. There are some great Scream-esque self-referential moments and the zombies are dispatched in a number of creative ways. The portion of the audience dressed as the undead certainly enjoyed themselves so that’s the main thing.
The Spanish zombie film [Rec], as in the record symbol on a digital camera viewfinder, coincidentally adopts the same idea as George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, which is to make a zombie film through the first person perspective of somebody holding a camera who gets caught up in the mayhem. While Diary of the Dead contained multiple camera footage edited together, [Rec] is all on one single camera over a shorter period of time. The camera-operator, Pablo, works for a late night reality show and with the show’s host, Angela, are doing a story about a typical night in the life of fire fighters. Pablo and Angela accompany the fire fighters to an apartment where they have to subdue a woman who appears to have gone rabid. When they attempt to leave the building they discover that along with all the residents they have been quarantined inside. As one by one the people trapped inside the building become infected and also go rabid, Pablo and Angela attempt to escape while the camera continues to roll. [Rec] is wonderfully paced and there are some genuine scares as bodies unexpectedly fall into frame or jump out of the darkness. However it is the final sequence of this film that really gives it an edge as superior horror filmmaking. It is a truly frightening conclusion and there were several gasps of “What the hell was that?” from the audience.
Originally appeared here on the Australian Film Critics Association website