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Dawn Of The Dead

Universal // R // March 19, 2004
List Price: Unknown

Review by Shannon Nutt | posted March 22, 2004 | E-mail the Author

I should begin this review by saying I've never been a big fan of the horror genre. Too many movies focus on the "scare" and "gore" tactics and totally forget about telling a good story in the process. But since the original Dawn of the Dead remains one of my favorite horror movies (partially because the mall at which it was filmed is five minutes from my home – but mostly because it's a lot of fun to watch), there was no way I was going to miss the remake – even if I was a little worried going in that this would be another lackluster attempt to capitalize on an original.

My worries, fortunately, were unfounded. The new Dawn of the Dead is a great update of the classic – only suffering from an ending that was just slightly too drawn out. Director Zach Snyder helms this film like he has been directing horror movies for years, even though this is his first project. If he decides to stay with the genre, he could very well live up to the legacy of George Romero, as well as others like Wes Craven and Clive Barker. But the director Snyder reminds me of the most is a young John Carpenter – providing just the right mix of humor, gore and political statement to make Dawn of the Dead a real roller coaster ride of fun and fright.

The movie opens by introducing us to Ana (Sarah Polley), a young nurse with a loving husband and a happy home life. The couple misses an important news bulletin because they are too busy making love in the shower – but in the middle of the night, one of the neighborhood girls shows up in their home covered with blood. Ana's husband rushes over to see what's wrong and the girl takes a big chunk out of his neck…which, of course, turns him into a zombie too. After barely escaping her own home alive, Ana soon discovers the widespread problem as she races away in her car.

This is just the beginning of the film, as the credits roll and the viewer is treated to news footage of the world falling apart (much of it actual footage) to the tune of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" – which is a song about the end times and Armageddon. Music is actually a secondary character in Snyder's film – playing happy, cheerful elevator music like "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and "You Light Up My Life" in the mall scenes that make up the majority of the movie, and giving us Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness" during a great rooftop montage scene at the film's midway point.

After the opening credits conclude, Ana meets up with a cop (Ving Rhames), as well as a salesman (Jake Weber) and a young couple (Mekhi Phifer and Inna Korobkina) who are expecting their first baby soon. The foursome heads off to the local mall where they hope to hole-up for the time being. They meet up with three security guards who are distrustful at first, but eventually agree to work together with them against the growing zombie army.

Fortunately, due to either a lack of work on the screenplay or the fact that the zombies aren't too bright – they spend most of the movie pounding against the doors of the mall, but never get the bright idea of just breaking through the glass – even though the opening scene in the movie shows that a zombie is full capable of busting through a wooden door with his head. But I'll forgive the film for such inconsistencies, since zombies storming the mall too early in the movie would have taken much of the tension and fun out of the proceedings.

Also of note is the way in which Snyder chooses to shoot the film – with a lot of daylight and high-end film stock early in the movie, and gradually turning darker and grainier as the film goes on. The final action sequence, in which our heroes attempt their escape in a couple of refitted mall buses, almost looks like it was shot by a different director, as the style switches to a very guerilla-style, hand-held look.

As pointed out in other reviews, if there's a problem with the new Dawn of the Dead, it's in the fact that the characters aren't nearly as well-rounded or developed as those in Romero's original film. Perhaps that's because of the MTV-like demand we put in our cinema these days – more action and less talk – but it would have been nice to find out a little more about some of the people we meet during the course of the movie.

But some small complaints aside, the new Dawn of the Dead is better than anyone could have expected and one of the few remakes that lives up to the status of the original. It's certainly one of the best horror flicks to come out of Hollywood in a number of years, and is certainly good enough to spawn a sequel – hopefully with Snyder in the director's chair once again.



Highly Recommended

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