Dawn of the Dead (2004)
USA / English
"When the undead rise, civilization will fall. "A nurse, a policeman, a street gang member, his wife, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.
"Attention Shoppers! The mall is now closing forever.."
How will mankind behave in the end times? Will we turn into raving
and attack one another? Will we try to slavishly hold onto some fabric of
our society? Will we kick back and accept what is happening?
`Dawn of the Dead' in some ways tries to answer that question. The movie,
remake of George Romero's classic 1978 sequel to `Night of the Living
throws a group of people together while society crumbles around them and
allows the viewer to watch as humans seek to survive an onslaught of the
The movie opens with the unimaginable happening. Hordes of zombies have
overtaken Milwaukee and numerous survivors are both fighting off the
monsters and trying to escape the city. One such group includes Ana (Sarah
Polley), a nurse who is running scared after losing her husband, Kenneth
(Ving Rhames), a tough-as-nails cop, Michael (Jake Weber), who tries to be
two-steps ahead of any dangerous situation, and Andre (Mekhi Phifer),
trying to care of his pregnant wife.
Seeking shelter from the waves of zombie attacks, the group decides to
toward a local mall and hole up there until help arrives. Once inside they
join with security guards and use the shopping center as a refuge from the
undead while trying to piece together what's left of their
The plot is pretty straightforward, and relies mostly on cliché themes to
move the story along. So as a rule, most films such as this tend to be
predictable and quite tepid. Luckily, `Dawn of the Dead' has strong
personalities to fall back on, making it thankfully every bit a
character-driven drama as it is a horror-action piece.
As Ana, Polley convincingly plays a waif turned survivor with just the
amount of emoting. She is strong and vulnerable at the same moment, trying
to remain reasonable in unreasonable times. Weber also fits this bill as
Michael, a man with a shady past full of regret who tries to fill others
with hope while remaining a stark realistic.
Rhames' performance clearly commands the most attention. As Kenneth, he
becomes the group's de facto leader and top man of action. He keeps the
clearest head when trouble is afoot and leads the group out of one scrape
after another. Rhames gives the character a silent strength that provides
the film with a much needed human edge.
First time director Zack Snyder moves the film along briskly and
effectively, keeping the action scenes tight and the dramatic scenes
There is no heavy-handed sermonizing here that tends to infiltrate most
big-budget horror movies -- Snyder wisely lets the images speak for
The horror itself is shocking and grabs your attention, which is a plus
considering most of the recent crop of thrillers. The fact that it is
happening to sympathetic characters that we care about is another feather
the movie's cap.
All to often most horror movies are just excuses for numerous poorly
developed characters to be killed in awful ways for the enjoyment of the
audience. As far as recent zombie movies go, `Dawn of the Dead' thankfully
remains closer to `28 Days Later' than `House of the Dead.'
However, despite all the movie's strengths, it still pales in comparison
the original. Romero's `Dawn of the Dead' took the premise of people
in mall and used it to make some pointed social commentary about
consumerism. The first '`Dawn' had human characters selfishly hoarding
material goods for themselves, using the mall not only as a refuge from
zombies but also as their own personal palace that provides them with more
items than they could ever need.
It's to the detriment of the new film that it never takes the concept to
this level. Here, the story seems to take place in a mall because it's a
cool place for a horror movie, not because it can draw out anything
interesting in the characters themselves. Also, in the original the
wanted inside not only to eat the humans but also because they are drawn
the shopping center since is was an important place to them when they were
It's a shame that this time around viewers won't get the chance to see
zombies wandering around JC Penney or stumbling up and down escalators,
joke being humans amble about aimlessly themselves like the undead at the
`Dawn of the Dead' is a very bloody and terrifying film but it lacks the
superior gory effects from the 1978 movie. That should not stop the
squeamish from twitching in their seats due to the horrific content
Good acting and smart thinking elevates the proceedings among most other
horror offerings, but compared to Romero's original it lacks the
observations necessary to make it a classic. The first film remains an
intelligent critique on human actions during the apocalypse, while this is
just a suspense drama that is dressed to kill.
8 out of 10 stars. Not as good as Romero's original, but still one heck of
shot in the arm to cure the memory from most modern horror
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