At last, a horror remake worth the watch. Like the recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn Of The Dead had hefty expectations to live up to. Unlike the recent Chainsaw Massacre, this film fulfills those expectations – for the most part.
George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, which was released in 1978, has gone on to become one of the ultimate cult classics over the years. It is viewed by many as the film that transcended the “zombie” genre, which has recently been resurrected by such films as 28 Days Later. Romero’s original featured creeping zombies, excessive gore, and even a satirical take on American consumer society. It was the perfect mix of horror and offbeat comedy, and still works to this day.
But the smart money (and the box office results) says that the majority of those who have attended this new version have not seen the original. That is the case with many remakes (especially from the horror genre), so what will the uninitiated think of this update?
The film begins by introducing us to Ana (Polley), a nurse working at a hospital where people are showing up with strange bite marks on their bodies. She leaves later in the day and comes home to her boyfriend. Things are seemingly normal until the next day, when her boyfriend is bitten by the neighborhood girl and turned into a zombie. Ana flees the scene and soon finds herself among a small collection of survivors who have not been transformed into zombies. They seek refuge at a nearby mall, but the zombies are right on their tail.
How exactly people can so easily be transformed (it only takes a bite by one of “infected” after all) is not really explained, nor is it necessary. All we need to know is who is a zombie and who isn’t, and what the survivors come up with to stay alive.
As for those zombies, there is a major debate in the horror film community on how zombies should be done in modern horror films. Traditionally, zombies have always been slow-moving, yet imposing figures. 28 Days Later introduced a whole new breed, which basically moved at hyper speed. The zombies in Dawn fall in the middle. They walk and run, but are always imposing. The makeup effects make them plenty disgusting, too. Overall I think that they are very well done, and will suit today’s audiences.
What this new incarnation of Dawn lacks the most is any kind of character development. With the exception of Ana, we don’t care about any of the other survivors. I fully realize that horror films are not known for character development, but there is literally none here.
Also missing is Romero’s tongue-in-cheek satire. While this version does have some nice comedic moments (like a scene where the survivors are writing celebrity names on their dry-erase board and communicating them across the rooftop to a sharpshooter…who shoots the zombie who most looks like the celebrity), but overall the sense of total satire is missing.
That’s not to say the performances are lacking, however. Sarah Polley is excellent as the strong and determined Ana (and is a dead ringer for Heather Graham), while Ving Rhames is convincing as Kenneth the cop. Jake Weber also fares well as Michael, the most level-headed of the bunch.
Overall, Dawn Of The Dead will deliver in spades for most. It has plenty of blood and guts, humor, and too many zombies to count. It’s the kind of movie where people yell at the screen, get involved, and have fun. It will be too graphic for some, but I think you already know if you are part of this film target demographic. If you are, go have some fun.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 97 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language, and sexuality.
Theatrical Release: March 19, 2004
Directed by: Zach Snyder
Written by: James Gunn. Based upon the 1978 screenplay by George A. Romero.
Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly