Dawn of the Dead (2004)
As everyone knows, sequels suck. What you really want to avoid is a remake of a classic film, like Dawn of the Dead, in which the creator of the modern zombie film, George Romero, switched from black and white documentary style horror to full color, guns blazing, in your face social message zombie film. It’s a fantastic movie that I always recommend to people. So why would you want to make a new version? If you’re director Zach Snyder (300, Batman vs Superman), it’s because you loved the first one so much and you had a big glass of chutzpah with lunch.
Fortunately for us, his version works really well. The 2004 film begins in total suburban normalcy with a nice fade in on a skull that, when the camera pulls back is revealed to be an x-ray in a very busy hospital. They’ve got a weird rash of bite patients, which nurse Ana notes before finally escaping hours after her shift officially ended. At home she and her husband snuggle in bed and ignore the increasingly strident warnings on tv. The next morning the crud hits the rotator in a major way aaaaaaand we’re off.
This sounds awfully pedestrian, I know, but even though you know where everything is going it’s scary and gory and sad and frenetic. The screenplay, by George Romero and James Gunn (Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy) will of course be super familiar, but Gunn seems to have calmed down Romero’s latter movie overreaches with the script, and the first five minutes will let you know that you’re watching a solid horror movie crafted by a faithful director who obviously loves the genre and original film. The soundtrack is right on the money, and the Thornhill Square Shopping Centre in Ontario is a nice update to the original.
Ana (Sarah Polley) drives through the chaos (at one time under the original Dawn of the Dead helicopter, photoshopped in) and ends up at the mall, of course, with the typically Romero bunch of mis-matched survivors (Ving Rhames, Ty Burrell, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, and Jayne Eastwood). The current mall is bigger, with much better security than in the quaint 70s, and instead of a huge power plant below for zombies to wander around in, we have an enormous parking garage. This is much scarier because there’s a lot more room for the zombies to run around in. Yeah, run. These updated undead sprint faster than I ever managed in my sporting days, so there was no armchair disdain for dufuses who get caught by shamblers.
Besides the helicopter, you will have fun spotting other nods to the original movie, like a cameo from Tom Savini, bits of famous dialogue, and a science talking head you want to throttle. The makeup is very good, and the gore well done. The moral was a little muddled, which surprised me a lot the first time I saw it, considering its pedigree. I think it has something to do with family, and a good man putting loved ones ahead of himself, but I’m not sure. I liked the gaming aspect, like trading up weapons from crowbar to axe to gun, though the use of a chainsaw irritates me every time.
Where this version absolutely separates itself from its progenitor is the level of violence. The running zombies create opportunities for ferocious sequences of undead madness and mayhem. There is a measure of gratuitous violence, especially the Shoot the Famous Zombie Lookalike sequence that is played for laughs but really isn’t. And there is one young zombie that the filmmakers try to rip your heart out with. Didn’t work for me but YMMV. The DVD on the Director’s Cut has great special features, which you won’t get if you stream. Just sayin’.
All in all I highly recommend this zombie film. It’s a fine movie on its own, but being good as the remake of one of the all-time greats makes this feat of filmmaking all the more impressive.
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Official Trailer