Jason Creed (Joshua Close) is a young film-making student who is trying to make a horror movie with his friends. Whilst out in the woods filming they hear that the dead have started coming back to life and, while they are initially skeptic, they soon find that the threat is much more real.
The framing device of 'Diary of the Dead' is that the film is actually 'The Death of Death', a documentary comprising footage shot by Jason, along with clips downloaded from the internet, CCTV footage and whatever happens to be on the cameras the cast find along the way, and which has been edited and narrated by his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan). This is the first of the many interesting things about the film; the film-makers take great pains to explain where the footage comes from and in doing so gives the audience a few hints as to what has happened and where the story is going. It also gives Romero license to use music at certain points ''for effect'' since he has the excuse that the film is being made by a film student, rather than a 68-year old horror veteran. It also allows the film to avoid Cloverfield-style blurriness by saying ''they're all film students, they know how to frame a shot.'' If you think about this aspect of the film a bit too much then you may just disappear into a meta-quagmire, but otherwise it's a conceit that works very well for the film.
It also allows director George A. Romero to make his satirical swipes much more obvious than with his previous work. Debra's narration and the juxtaposition of Jason's footage with the found footage on the internet make it quite obvious that the idea of shooting a zombie film as if it was being filmed by those experiencing a zombie apocalypse is not just a gimmick; it's part of his attack on mass media and its ability to cloud the truth rather than illuminate it. Sure, it's a very heavy-handed message, but also a relevant one, and Romero has never shied away from relevance in his undead-capades.
Messages and satire aside, Romero's departure in style also allows him to play with the conventions of a genre that he arguably invented, bringing a freshness and sheer glee to proceedings that was sorely missing from 'Land of the Dead'. Zombies are dispatched in hilarious and gory ways (few directors have the knack for darkly humourous scares that Romero has) and he even engages in a bit of self-reflexiveness, working in subtle jokes about his past work and references to other zombie films. The finale also seems to owe something to the Resident Evil series (the games, not the films), though that may just be me reading into things a bit too much.
It's fun, it's scary and its message, whilst over-stated, is relevant and well argued. It doesn't reinvent the zombie genre but it does bring a freshness to some of the well-established cliches and has more invention and energy to it than you would expect given the seniority of its creator.
Bloody good fun.