Dawn of the Dead 2004 Dir. Zack Snyder
Until 2001, the zombie genre was pretty much dead. We hadn’t really seen anything good since Romero’s Day of the Dead and Russo’s Return of the Living Dead both released in 1985. While there had been entries in the genre, nothing of note had really stuck until the release of Resident Evil. While not a masterpiece, it was the first trumpet of the coming zombie mania that would arrive in full force in 2004, with the release of both Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s remake of the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead .
I have a confession to make. I am a die hard Romero Zombie fan. Night of the Living Dead remains one of my favorite films regardless of genre. However, while I respect the man’s work on his first trilogy (as well as the underrated Land of the Dead), George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is dull as hell. Not all of it, but the middle section of the film is bogged down by lack of character and action. I’m not saying that every film has to be a laugh a minute carnage fest, but the original Dawn of the Dead seems to run out of steam after they get comfortable in the mall. In my opinion, Snyder’s remake is the more watchable film.
Dawn of the Dead follows Ana, played by Sarah Polley as she arrives home from a shift at the hospital. The children in her cul de sac play without worries and she has a husband that loves her. The next morning everything goes wrong when her husband is attacked by the ravenous corpse of the neighbor girl, instantly turning him into an undead murder machine. In an attempt to escape, Ana crashes her car and is picked up by a group of people who are going to the mall, hoping to find a safe place.
Other than the mall setting, this Dawn of the Dead has very little in common with the original. The newscaster and swat team are all traded for a hodgepodge of quirky characters, also the zombies are faster. With a screenplay written by James Gunn, we are treated to, if not always likable, distinct and engaging characters. These characters react to each other as much as they react to the recently deceased returning to life. Snyder’s Dawn becomes kind of like MTV’s The Real World and in between moments of extreme horror, we find characters dealing with each other. These relationships are the heart of what makes the film work. The eclectic group of survivors is entertaining and human and we find ourselves engaged with them, even if they’re not doing anything but playing golf and making grafitti. Which reminds me, the segment of this film wherein the survivors adjust to living inside the mall is a handled neatly with a montage of humorous activities to Richard Cheese’s rendition of “Get Down with the Sickness”. We see time passing but the story isn’t bogged down like it is in the original. This might mark one of the few times a montage is actually one of the most memorable parts of a film.
Dawn of the Dead might be one of the best zombie films of a generation and certainly earns a place among well done remakes like The Thing, and The Fly. The script is tight, the characters are well drawn and the movie is extremely entertaining. However, Romero’s allegory about consumerism is but a vestige in this new version. There’s really no hidden message here, at least nothing we haven’t seen before, and that’s okay. If you want a solid message from a modern zombie film, I’d suggest Shaun of the Dead or 28 Days Later, but if you want a fun, action-packed zombie film, it doesn’t get better than 2004’s Dawn of the Dead.