This weekend I watched the 2006 British zombie film The Zombie Diaries. Based upon the DVD cover, I was expecting to get a government-shock-troops-versus-zombies shoot ’em up. Instead, I got an intelligent, measured, low-key, yet ultimately satisfying series of intersecting vignettes.
If there is one movie to which The Zombie Diaries is similar, it is The Blair Witch Project. (Looking at other reviews online, I see that I am by not the first person to suggest this.) However, in my opinion, The Zombie Diaries improves greatly upon Blair Witch, both in plotting and special effects.
The Zombie Diaries follows the lives of people trapped in the isolated British countryside after a zombie outbreak effectively shuts down London. The film is shot by the actors, who, for different reasons, are seeking to document the zombie phenomenon.
Watching The Zombie Diaries is like reading a zombie-themed short story collection. All of the stories are “found manuscript”-style, and sometimes characters from one story show up in another.
One thing I liked a lot about The Zombie Diaries was its portrayal of a measured breakdown of services during a zombie-created crisis. First, the telephones go. Then the power. For months, the governments of Europe have been anticipating the onset of a bird flu-like plague, but it’s quickly clear that this zombie phenomenon has overwhelmed their wildest expectations. (One thing I have yet to see portrayed in a zombie film or book–though I’m incorporating into my next zombie book–is the extent to which governments everywhere would try to keep the economy going during a zombie outbreak. Think about it. Our economy is global. It is affected by disasters that last a single day, or that only affect a small part of the globe. Expand that to zombies popping up all over the world, and the whole economic system would instantly be in ruins. …unless people kept going to work amidst the zombies.)
What are my criticisms of this film? The acting is… uneven, let’s say. Most of the characters are portrayed effectively, but there were a couple of lousy performances that really took me out of the moment. Also, the zombies in The Zombie Diaries are just sort of okay. Nothing special. They’re slow moving (which I like), but even within that constraint, zombies can be rendered with more verve and invention than they have been here.
Ultimately, The Zombie Diaries is a movie about people, not zombies. As in the comic series The Walking Dead, although terrifying flesh-eating zombies may be everywhere, the real terror comes from other people. The Zombie Diaries suggests that a zombie outbreak would be an opportunity for certain people to show their authentic selves. It also suggests that that might not be a good thing.
Final Thought: Props to The Zombie Diaries for being a zombie movie in which the z-word is never used. That’s a pretty exclusive club.