Dawn of the Dead

Rather 28 Days Later-ish remake. Good clean fun, if you discount the buckets of blood.

Released in 2004, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 30 Mar 2004 by Scott Morris
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I'll confess up front a predisposition to liking this film. After all, anything that uses a Sparklehorse tune in the trailer can't be all bad. While this admittedly unnecessary remake might run a shade too long, for most of its runtime it's a rather enjoyable zombie-filled gore fest that anyone with a passing interest in the horror genre ought to appreciate, wiping away many a memory of the House of the Dead incident.

What separates Dawn of the Dead from the many other recent cinematic attempts at threatening your underpant integrity is for the most part a refreshing lack of pretense and a certain efficiency at getting directly to the killing, which is surely the point of a zombie flick. It even works the Stereophonics' "Have A Nice Day" into the first five minutes, truly signaling its intentions as a bone chilling experience. Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) awakes to find a world filled with the undead flesh eating chaps, for some reason. Rather than attempt to explain the whys and wherefore of the situation the humans currently surviving the zombie onslaught focus on the more pressing survival issues.

After escaping her now undead hubby she soon teams up with gruff ex-marine copper Kenneth (Ving Rhames), strong silent type Michael (Jake Weber), understandably worried Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his dangerously pregnant girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina). With most of the supposedly safe havens in Missouri now cut off by hordes of frisky zombies the group decide to hole up in the local mall. After some initial unpleasantness with the security guards lead by C.J. (Michael Kelly) they're allowed sanctuary, although it doesn't stay secure for too long. Even after disposing of the few evil dead critters running around the lower levels there's soon a sizable army of zombies loitering with intent outside of their doors.

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While surviving a few scares including the arrival of a truckload of fresh (human) arrivals it becomes apparent that no help is going to arrive. Hatching a risky plot to escape the zombie overrun mainland in acerbic playboy Ash-from-Evil Dead wannabe Steve (Ty Burrell)'s boat, the remaining mall inhabitants have to fight for their very lives against those nasty cadavers in a battle that ensures a tremendous amount of blood, gore and chainsaws.

Which is pretty much what you ponied up the entrance fee for, so I doubt that'll be the cause of many complaints. Perhaps more surprising is the moments of tension earlier on in the film, producing a few genuinely jumpy moments before the scale of the zombie menace necessitates a more action oriented slant. Outnumbered, the only hope for the survivors is to outgun and outrun the hordes although the outrunning part might prove difficult. Rather than the slowly shuffling rotting bodies that typified both Romero's original films and the sizable number of his imitators, director Zack Snyder has seen fit to give his zombies a few lessons in sprinting.

The only other film to my addled recollection to have such speedy mindless malcontents is Danny Boyle's28 Days Later, and it does seem in a few stylistic places that Snyder has taken inspiration from the relatively acclaimed yet largely ignored British effort. The plot however concentrates more on the siege mentality of the unfortunate humans while the bulk of 28 Days Later's meat was devoted to the chase. Dawn of the Dead produces a few memorable moments as the humans try to continual some semblance of a normal life holed up inside the mall in a world that's plainly gone down the tubes. Fighting off boredom as much as zombies for much the middle reels the Kenneth invents an inspired game with another survivor from a gun shop across the road, sniping zombie celebrity lookalikes which provides a chuckle amongst the tension.

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However, for its ambitions to make the final reels a fright fest it just doesn't build up enough of that elusive tension and unless you're one of the very few people not to be fully desensitised to buckets of gore there's little in the way of shocks as our heroes make their desperate escape. What is supplied instead is a rather fun little action sequence where limbs are severed and a good quantity of zombies are blown up. Again it's a sequence handled well by the first time helmer Snyder, who overall has done a most impressive job given the pressure he must have felt on being handed such a high profile, cult classic property.

The only hints of inexperience that might be detected come from a reluctance to wield the scalpel in the editing room, the movie running to some 97 minutes that feel a lot longer than they actually are. It's difficult to say exactly what's wrong with it, but perhaps a shade too long is spent inside the mall with little going on meaning many will be a little bored by the time the action oriented A-Team inspired final sequences kick in. Still, there's a refreshing lack of screwing around going on this effort and as a film that's advertised as a zombie filled goregasm it's getting a good many things fairly close to correct.

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While there's a few moments where you'll be wondering what is possessing the characters to do something exceedingly stupid given the situation, for the most part there's no panicked flailing and generally being a stupid teenager as is so pandemic in the genre. Hard to say what a realistic reaction should be given the feasibility of zombies rising up and wandering around for no explicable reason, but the main characters that are given enough screentime to judge them on do a decent job in believable reactions.

There are enough pacing glitches and miscellaneous minor irritants (most far too minor to mention) to make a score of three and a half arbitrary units out of five a respectable and fair score. However we have no half measures and more importantly no half marks here at theOneliner, so I'll give this a four on the basis that it's quite a good film in itself and also that it pisses over the vast, vast bulk of the 'horror' gunk that has dribbled our way over last year. That and the soundtrack including the Richard Cheese superb lounge version of nu-rock crapmerchants Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness". Your mileage may vary.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Zack Snyder
Cast list:
Sarah Polley (Ana)
Ving Rhames (Kenneth)
Jake Weber (Michael)
Mekhi Phifer (Andre)
Ty Burrell (Steve)
Michael Kelly (CJ)
Kevin Zegers (Terry)
Michael Barry (Bart)
Lindy Booth (Nicole)
Jayne Eastwood (Norma)
Boyd Banks (Tucker)
Inna Korobkina (Luda)