DAWN OF THE DEAD
***1/2 (out of 5)
March 19, 2004
Sarah Polley as ANA
Ving Rhames as KENNETH
Jake Weber as MICHAEL
Mekhi Phifer as ANDRE
Ty Burrell as STEVE
Michael Kelly as CJ
Directed by: Zack Snyder
BY KEVIN CARR
If “Night of the Living Dead” is the granddaddy of all zombie movies, than surely George A. Romero’s 1978 sequel “Dawn of the Dead” is the granddaddy of all wacky shoot-em-up zombie movies, spawning countless others including the outrageous splatter-fest “Dead Alive” by Oscar-winner Peter Jackson.
With much more horror and much less humor, the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” may or may not be better than the original. This depends on how much you love the original. In reality, they’re two different films for two different generations. But at least it’s better than Tom Savini’s pedantic remake of “Night of the Living Dead” fourteen years ago.
While there might have been a night of these living dead, it is only alluded to. Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse, heads home from the hospital after seeing a few weird bite cases come through. She wakes up the next morning to find the zombie menace ripping through her subdivision. After running from her zombie neighbors, she and several other survivors take refuge in a local shopping mall. However, they soon realize that while they are presently safe, rescue will never come and they have painted themselves into a corner.
I’m a huge horror movie fan. It is not uncommon to find me at 24-hour horror movie marathons. However, I’ve never been a big fan of the original “Dawn of the Dead.” I feel it is important to say that, considering that with any remake, the biggest obstacle that will be faced is the comparisons to the original.
To be honest, I haven’t been a big fan of zombie movies in general. In fact, one of the things that I liked the most about last year’s “28 Days Later” was that the zombies didn’t lurch along at a snail’s pace. (Yes, I know there are plenty of fans out there that will point out that the things in “28 Days Later” weren’t real zombies, but living humans infected with a disease. Get a grip, folks. That’s like saying that you didn’t like “Alien” because you heard sound in space. To me, they were zombies.)
I like them moving fast. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe these are the new zombies of the MTV generation. In some ways, I feel like the Anne Rice fan who welcomed in the new breed of vampires after years of Count Dracula rip-offs.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every movie with fast-moving zombies is good. The vomitous “House of the Dead” proved that wrong when it stunk up the joint last year. But I will say that giving the zombies more energy is a step in the right direction.
The new “Dawn of the Dead” is a pretty solid horror flick. Some parts go a little over the top – like a zombie birthing scene – but generally director Zack Snyder makes good decisions to use the old horror movie technique of not showing the gore all the time. One of the more disturbing scenes happens when Ana is fleeing her home. She passes by a commuter bus and sees two zombies attacking someone through the windows, which obscure the details. The shadowy attack is more disturbing than any gut-eating could have been.
The story carries a sense of hopelessness with the characters, and effectively illustrates their loneliness as they wait to not be rescued. The cast does a remarkably good job with what they’re given, considering this is really just a splatter flick. They achieve this by taking their parts seriously, resisting the inherent goofiness of the story. And this is what makes the movie work between zombie chases.
I respect the fact that no explanation was given for the rising of the dead. In fact, this film doesn’t even specifically say the dead are spontaneously rising from the grave. If anything, this film borrows again from the “28 Days Later” model by implying this is caused by a pathogen. While the characters in the film discover that a bite from a zombie can infect someone, it is also shown that people who died without this exposure didn’t rise.
George Romero weighed in on the issue of fast-moving zombies while at the Columbus-based “Nightmare at Studio 35” horror marathon last fall. According to Romero, zombies moved slow, and that was the end of discussion. Come on, George! We’re talking zombies here! Saying that fast-moving zombies violate some law of the physics is absurd. It’s all fiction, anyway.