Dawn of the Dead (2004)
US (dir. Zack Snyder)
Cast: Jake Weber, Kim Poirier, Mekhi Phifer, Sarah Polley, Ty Burrell, Ving Rhames
Synopsis: A re-envisioning of George A. Romero’s apocalyptic horror classic, “Dawn of the Dead”: An unexplained plague has decimated the world’s population–and yet, the dead aren’t dying. They’ve become zombies, stalking endlessly in a quest to feed on the flesh and blood of the few remaining living. A ragtag group of desperate survivors in a Wisconsin town seek refuge in a large indoor mall, where they must learn not only to protect themselves from the ever-increasing zombie horde, but also to co-exist with each other as a last bastion of humanity. Sealed off from the rest of what used to be the world, the group uses every available resource, in their against-all-odds fight, to remain alive and human.
Review: Could Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” be one of the best horror movie remake ever? I certainly think so. Though it retains very little from Romero’s version of the same name besides the mall and the zombies, it manages to succeed at being an excellent horror film in its own way, something other horror movie remakes fail to do because they stick way too closely to the source material which ends up botching the movie as a result. By bringing the audience into his own version of “Dawn of the Dead”, much like Nispel did for his 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Snyder succeeds where so many others have failed when it comes to making remakes.
One of the best features of this remake, yet something that fans of the original lament about, is the super-speed zombies. I too prefer the laboriously shuffling along zombies from movies like “Night of the Living Dead”, but there’s something about Snyder’s speed racer zombies that scares the shit out of me. For one, they look fierce, especially our heroine’s hubby who goes from breaking through bathroom doors, to smashing windshields, to chasing down cars in one of the best zombie attack scenes I’ve ever seen. Child zombies, fat old lady zombies, zombie babies, this movie has them all, and with the exception of the baby zombie who of course cannot walk yet, never mind run, they move at an alarmingly fast pace.
Oh and I think it’s worth mentioning that the zombie baby gets (tastefully, if that’s even possible) shot in the face, in what is, I’m sure, one of the top ten zombie moments ever.
This movie was shot in and around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area – where I happen to live!) and it looks totally surreal because for someone like me who is familiar with the structural design of the buildings and the houses seen in this movie, it hits very close to home. This scene always manages to creep me right the fuck out because it looks nearly identical to the suburban street in the GTA where I live.
“Dawn of the Dead” has a strong group of characters at the center of the zombie apocalypse story. We slowly and steadily get to know all these survivors over the course of the movie, and it never once feels like character development is lacking or is excessive to the point that it feels like the movie has to stop so that we can get to know a character as they have lengthy heart-to-heart conversations. This is a movie that is as fast-paced as its zombies. There is no room for wasting time on going in depth with the characters, yet we get to know just enough about everyone to make you care about them, feel sorry for them, or laugh at/with them. That is impressive considering the cast of characters consists of two separate groups of survivors, one group of mall cops, and a gun store owner who never actually speaks and we only see from a distance of like 50 feet. There’s a shotgun touting Ving Rhames as Kenneth (the gruff policemen looking for his brother), Jake Weber as Michael, likely one of the best “everyman” characters I’ve ever seen, Ty Burrell as womanizing, rich asshole Steve, Sarah Polley as our heroine Ana, and Michael Kelly as asshole turned hero CJ with one fucking badass handlebar mustache. This is a zombie apocalypse survivor dream team. There’s not one character who whines every 5 minutes, there’s no one who goes into zombie overkill mode, and there’s no one who you really truly want to die.
It’s hard to believe it, but “Dawn of the Dead” was director Zack Snyder’s first feature film effort. Although a relatively unknown director at the time this movie came out, he would go on to do “300” and “The Watchmen”. Writer James Gunn had previously written the screenplay for, uh, “Scooby-Doo”, so as a writer/director team, there wasn’t really much to hope for. Somehow, the stars aligned, and these two created a horror movie remake that was nearly perfect in its execution and on par with the original in terms of quality. They took the idea of the original “Dawn of the Dead”, and made it their own in the best way possible, thus setting the bar for horror movie remakes. The opening credits alone are simply fantastic, and are set perfectly to Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” (one of the greatest apocalypse songs ever). There’s even a montage of the survivors’ daily life in the mall after they shack up there during the apocalypse, and its set to a swing version of “Down with the Sickness” an appropriate song choice given the theme of the movie and a nice touch of comic relief as well.
In fact, something I really love about “Dawn of the Dead” are the touches of comic relief throughout the movie. Pretty much the entire montage I discussed previously is comic relief in itself, but scenes like when the survivors run to an elevator while being chased by a horde of zombies and then listen to elevator music on the uncomfortable elevator ride down, to which CJ replies: “Hey… I like this song!”, are hilarious when watched in context. There’s also the whole zombie celebrity shooting competition that the male survivors participate in to kill time, which is a nice spot of really dark comedy. There’s a fine balance of tension and comic relief that “Dawn of the Dead” manages to maintain, but all the while Snyder and Gunn keep the movie firmly in the realm of tragic horror, even with the ending and the footage played over the credits.
What more can I say about “Dawn of the Dead” other than I absolutely loved it. From the first time I saw it, I loved it, and every time I watch, I still enjoy it just as much. Every one I’ve recommended this movie to has raved about it as well, even people who were fans of the original. This is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and an absolutely terrific remake.