Dawn of the Dead Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/22/2004
I was so burned by last year’s 28 Days Later that I was leery of Dawn of the Dead. I remember liking the original, but I had been wondering if a zombie movie could be fun again. This remake proved that it was still possible.
Ana Clark (Sarah Polley) is an E.R. nurse who has just come off a long hospital shift in Everett, Wisconsin. As she is leaving the hospital, she misses all of the loud signs of something weird going on, like unusual injuries coming into the E.R., news reports on the radio of those injuries, and the television news report when she gets home. She spends a nice evening home with her husband Luis (Justin Louis), but the next morning, things go terribly wrong. Ana and Luis wake up to see a neighbor girl named Vivian (Hannah Lochner) at their bedroom door who has become a zombie for some reason. Vivian lunges at Luis, biting him on the neck and killing him. Ana takes Vivian out with the bedroom door and escapes her now zombified husband out the bathroom window. As she’s driving away, she sees the carnage all around her. She runs off the road and goes unconscious. When she comes to, she is confronted by a policeman named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), who is among a group of survivors, including electronics salesman Michael (Jake Weber), street thug Andre (Mekhi Phifer), and Andre’s pregnant Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina.) They all break into the Cross Roads Mall for safety, and as they are surveying the mall, they run into head security guard CJ (Michael Kelly) and his subordinates Terry (Kevin Zegers) and Bart (Michael Barry.) At first, the three security guards aren’t willing to let them infringe upon their floor, but change their minds after their pleading. The zombies were unable to break into the mall’s locked doors (due to reinforced glass, as Andre points out.) They paint SOS symbols on the roof to signal a helicopter, and it is on the roof where they spot Andy (Bruce Bohne), the proprietor of Andy’s Gun World, across the mall’s parking lot. Andy is alone on his roof, but soon becomes an ally when they realize that he is a sharpshooter. Other survivors then arrive at the mall, including truck driver Norma (Jayne Eastwood), the cynical jerk Steve (Ty Burrell) and his girlfriend Monica (Kim Poirier), dog lover Nicole (Lindy Booth) and her dad Frank (Matt Frewer), Tucker (Boyd Banks), an old man named Glen (R. D. Reid), and a sick bloated woman (Ermes Blarasin) who appeared to be Glen’s wife. When the bitten bloated woman dies and comes back as a zombie, it is that point that Ana realizes that just a bite from a zombie is a death sentence, which meant Frank was doomed as well. Also, after Steve informs them that Fort Pastor, a nearby rescue site, is gone, they come up with a plan to reinforce some busses to take them to the marina and sail on Steve’s boat to an island that is hopefully zombie-free (okay, where in Wisconsin is there a body of water big enough near it to include an island?) One advantage they discover is that the zombies aren’t interested in dogs, so they use a stray dog named Chips (the dog’s real name is Blu) to deliver food to Andy. The remaining survivors prepare for their trek to the marina, bonding in unusual ways along the way in their common goal to stay alive.
I don’t mean any disrespect to fans of the original movie or its creator George Romero, but I liked this one better than the original. Even though it was a definite horror movie, it had several campy moments. My favorite part was when the survivors played a rooftop game with Andy, requesting that he blow the head off a zombie that looked like a celebrity (Jay Leno, Burt Reynolds, Rosie O’Donnell, etc.) Also, the way it was filmed was cool. The flashier moments weren’t always in the forefront, which I think added to the overall carnage. The best example was at the beginning when Ana was driving away from her house after escaping from Luis. As she was driving, we saw an overhead shot of her driving through the neighborhood, and on both sides of the screen, various forms of destruction were happening. A gas station blows up, and its explosion happens on the side instead of filling up the screen.
One of complaints I had about 28 Days Later was that the zombies moved too fast. Thinking back, I’m wondering if it was less about the zombie’s speed and more about the victim’s ability to escape. The zombies in this movie are fast too (something that differs from the original movie), but since there is still a claustrophobic feel to the movie, it is scarier than it was with Days. The zombies in Days were so quick that you barely saw them, and they were so infrequent that you felt like the victims could have easily escaped. The zombies in this movie are not missed at all (or at least they were filmed correctly), and their numbers are huge (there are several overhead shots of the zombies storming the mall like a swarm of termites.)
Another thing that I loved about the movie was the music. Halfway through the movie, a lounge version of heavy metal band Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness,” performed by Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine, is played while the characters are doing various things (the original Disturbed version plays during the closing credits.) It also plays the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” at one point. Both songs were perfect tongue-in-cheek choices due to their lyrical content, and it the case of the Cheese song, it cracked me up to hear a version of a song that I so commonly associate with metal music being performed as a swingin’ little ditty. Older audiences and non-metal fans might miss this little in-joke when the song plays (I confirmed this by asking a fellow older critic if he had caught it…he hadn’t.) I kind of wish this movie had an accompanying soundtrack, because I’d consider picking it up myself.
If I had any criticism of the movie, it would be a couple of logic flaws. Aside from the marina question, I couldn’t understand why the characters never remembered to shoot the zombies in the head (the legendary makeup artist Tom Savini, the man who did the makeup effects for the original movie, appears in a cameo as a sheriff instructing people on the proper way to kill a zombie.) I realize that the whole movie is based on a logic flaw, since it can’t explain how or why the zombification happened (other than the excuse that “when there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth”), but those things frustrated me.
The original 1978 Dawn of the Dead acted as a satire against consumerism, but since I am a capitalist, I was glad to see this aspect missing from the remake. In fact, aside from the core plot of a few survivors hiding from zombies in a mall, this movie is nothing like the original, which is a good thing. Check it out for the great effects, expert direction by first-timer Zack Snyder, well-placed music choices, and zombies that actually creep you out. I have said many times that remakes aren’t necessarily bad, and sometimes they can be better than the original film. That is the case with this one.
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