(directed by Jennifer Lynch, starring Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond)

Two FBI agents, Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond) and Sam Hallaway (Bill Pullman), arrive at a local police station in the Santa Fe desert to investigate a series of murders. They interrogate three Witness|eyewitnesses: Police officer Jack Bennet, the meth-addict Bobby, and Stephanie, an eight-year-old girl, whose family was murdered by two figures dressed in jumpsuits and latex masks.

The ‘’surveillance’’ of the title does not exclusively address the functioning of the government. Although she does criticize the American police with a wry sense of humour, Jennifer is primarily interested in character psychology. This is where the director’s unique aesthetics departs from that of her father.

As the surveillance commences at the police office, we come to realize that the witnesses are lying because they want to outperform their partners. Unlike Frank Booth/Dennis Hopper of ‘’Blue Velvet’’, the killers are not driven by abstract evil. Instead, they seek confirmation in the gaze of the other, whose acceptance guarantees their survival.

In this way Jennifer makes the disturbing statement that  functioning of desire enables surveillance. In our desperate craving for love, we betray our vision to accommodate the invisible gaze – what we perceive as the expectations of others.

The visual style of the film supports this. For example, the placing of the camera on both sides of the two-way mirror in the interrogation room, which suggests that the FBI agents conducting the surveillance are being watched themselves. The way certain lines in the dialog unexpectedly point to the events that unfold later in the film. This creates an omnipresent gaze, beyond linear space and time. Or Jennifer’s trademark slow motion hallucinations: an especially brilliant one shows the murderous couple experiencing agony as they try to make love, seeing past each other, unable to communicate.




The mainstream had vanished, now there was only us: bloggers, packers, kids. The more voices there are, the more spin there is. The truth becomes that much harder to find. In the end, it’s all just…noise.

DIARY OF THE DEAD joins the landmark films of the 00s, e.g. David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, John Carpenter’s CIGARETTE BURNS and Michael Hanneke’s CACHE, in which film (and hence, reality) runs on automatic pilot, because the film-maker as well as the audience are being controlled by a third entity. As one character in the movie puts it, ”I don’t want to make this movie, but I can’t stop the script”.

To see what a great director George A. Romero still is, compare DIARY OF THE DEAD with last year’s dud CLOVERFIELD. CLOVERFIELD was shot without a cut, stretching credibility to an absurd point. All throughout the movie, one couldn’t figure out how the protagonists managed to run their video camera while being chased by Godzilla. You ended up not caring about the characters, or the film as a whole.

The noise in this typographic design reveals the film’s key theme: there’s no reality outside of the recording.

Conversely, Romero builds suspense on the unexpected cuts, interruptions or noises that occur because the cameras run out of power. In a crucial scene, the main character is recording zombies in a hospital. The camera’s battery runs out in the middle of a scary attack. The viewer is instantaneously made aware of his addiction to the video signal, his desire to continue watching. On the other hand, the cut confronts us with the fear that if the video signal was interrupted, we would perish as well – even though the signal would eventually continue.

Another example: in this shot a character is looking into the mirror, which reflects numerous surveillance monitors; he is being recorded by another character in the movie; the camera tilts to the left, and he’s recorded by a third character… the point of view shot constantly shifts in DIARY OF THE DEAD. This creates the frightening impression that our already-fragmented identity can only be held together by cameras.

Steven Shaviro put it succinctly in his ultimate take on the film:

Though the female protagonist sarcastically suggests that, if her boyfriend does not videotape an incident, then it hasn’t happened, in fact everything that happens belongs to the realm of images on screens — regardless of whether or not his videocamera is around to capture it. It is not that the world has become unreal to us because we always view it mediated through cameras and screens; but rather that, since everything in the world has proliferated imagistically and virally, by contagion, in the way zombies proliferate and communicate their own condition to others — that therefore cameras and screens and computers are in fact the only tools we have left to cope with the world and its realities. This goes along with the shift from a situation where everyone watches images on television, to one where everyone owns a camera and actively captures/produces images.