George A. Romero’s "Diary of the Dead" has been drawing mixed reactions since its premiere at Toronto — some critics find the zombie update nothing short of brilliant, others heavy-handed and ponderous. Of the first school is Premiere‘s Glenn Kenny, who proclaims that "besides an examination of us-against-them and us-against-us politics and a trenchant commentary on the it’s-okay-to-torture-under-the-‘right’- circumstances mentality that’s been foisted on the American public, Diary is one of the most revealing and fascinating critiques of image-making since Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom." Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, in a hefty review that offers more depth than the film it’s addressing, writes "It’s a zombie movie by way of Brecht and Godard: Where most directors
strive to elide the audience’s awareness of the physical filmmaking
process, Romero delights in exposing the rivets and joints holding
together his movie’s disparate pieces." In another lengthy piece brought on by the film, Slant‘s Jeremiah Kipp salutes the use of the first-person camera: "The front-line imagery forces audience identification, so when monsters trudge toward us in the distance or pop up around the corner, the shock feels personal and direct."
"Romero initially conceived the project for Web-only broadcast, and if
Poppa Zombie isn’t quite the second coming of McLuhan when it comes to
media critique, his return to small-scale indie filmmaking delivers big
genre kicks," writes Nathan Lee at the Village Voice. "Diary of the Dead isn’t bad," shrugs Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman. "It’s a kicky B movie hiding inside a draggy, self-conscious-work-of-auteurist-horror one." "Even bad Romero is a far sight more interesting than the coolly sadistic guts-porn that currently passes for mainstream horror," claims Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who does add that "Diary’s constant stream of sociopolitical speechifying, most of it channeled through Deb’s voiceover, often sounds like an old crank on the corner waving a ‘The End Is Nigh’ sign." A similar sentiment from Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: "[A]s smartly staged, and even emotionally tender as it often is, Romero’s latest, with its central and oft-repeated mistrust of the "new information age," also can’t help but seem a little like the product of aged paranoia–like your pissed-off grandpa, a little preachy and slightly doddering."
Amongst the disappointed: "Diary asks some compelling questions about documentarians’ responsibility to the people they’re chronicling. Then it asks them again and again and again, wasting scores of valuable brain-munching opportunities in the process," sighs Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club. "There’s some striking filmmaking in ‘Diary of the Dead,’ but there’s also a lot of less-than-elegant speechifying," writes the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis. "Having already scared the stuffing out of us with his past films, Uncle George has decided it’s time for a good talk." "It should be said that Romero’s lack of oomph is not just a sign of his age. It’s also a matter of conviction," suggests David Edelstein at New York, adding that "Romero can’t make a first-person movie without indicting his own techniques." And at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir proclaims a life-long soft spot for Romero, and then addings:
"Diary of the Dead" is a limp and dreary experience, at least after you get past its intriguing premise. It’s poorly written and woodenly acted, completely formulaic and hopelessly imprisoned by both its genre and finally its form. I mean, it’s great that George Romero knows about MySpace, I guess, but spicing up a middling, muddling zombie flick with a few electronic-lifestyle fillips is beneath him, frankly.