Horror in a world of video narcissism


As in ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘(REC)’ (see earlier post) George A. Romero’s new installment (the fifth) in his ‘Dead’ series, ‘Diary of the Dead’ also tells a story from a subjective in-the-thick-of-the-action viewpoint. It’s about a group of film students who are making an independent horror film when they become trapped in a world being consumed by flesh-eating zombies. They then turn their attention toward making the film into a documentary on their personal horror experiences. Romero reworked a script he drafted a decade ago and chose to shoot with hand-held cameras only, after witnessing the ballooning growth of mobile and networked audiovisual media. Like in ‘Cloverfield’, this choice has had a huge impact on the choreography (since it’s based on long, continuous takes and “the camera was 360, so everybody was an acrobat, ducking under the lens when the camera came past you”), soundtrack (no music, just sound effects) and image framing (instead of using ‘product shots’ the action is off-hand – in an interview in Empire Romero says “we’re trying to ‘happen’ upon the violence rather than focus on it.”) In another interview with Romero (‘Videotaping is believing’), Chris Vognar made an interesting comment: “horror finds itself in a new world of video narcissism. In this world, nothing exists unless it’s on camera, and life and limb are no more valuable than multimedia immortality”, something Romero agrees with: “The world is a camera these days, and it seems to be part of the collective subconscious”. But Romero’s skepticism of an all-video, all-the-time society pokes through the film’s surface. In ‘Diary of the Dead’, the show must go on, even with a bunch of flesh-eating zombies on your trail… YouTube awaits. If the camera is rolling and the footage uploading, even if you’re (a living) dead you’re still alive.

Romero’s film also features a chorus of voices questioning mainstream media and their “official” account of “the truth”. A more outspoken critical exploration of the politics of image-making and reception is on display in Brian de Palma’s ‘Redacted’ – a word meaning ‘edited’ or ‘blacked out’ (the film’s first image is a written disclaimer on the screen, with more and more words gradually being deleted). This low budget movie ($5 million) offers a reconstruction of the events leading up to and following the widely reported rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by four U.S. soldiers in the town of Mahmoudiya in 2006. De Palma negotiates with reality and fiction, using only (mostly staged) footage that was (supposedly) recorded via mobile video, security cameras and webcams (but actually shot in HD video, as it was funded by HDNet films), published via video platforms, blogs and (Iraqi) TV news reportages. By recreating images which are systematically removed from the official “news” reports about Iraq, de Palma questions the filters through which we see and accept the world, the power of the mediated image and how presentation and composition influence our ideas and beliefs. This movie triggered quite a bit of critical responses and political controversy in the States, so I’m curious to see how Europeans will look at it (it should come out in traditional roulation soon, but it’s available online if you look for it a bit. More on this when I watched it in the cinema)