Twitter Plot Summary: It’s the zombie apocalypse (again) so a group of survivors wait it out in a shopping mall. Retail therapy always works wonders.
Director: Zack Snyder
Key Cast: Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Lindy Booth, Matt Frewer.
Five Point Summary:
1. Peaceful American suburbia. It goes to pot.
2. Sorry, but how did she get into their house? Have they not heard about locking doors in America?
3. That is one big fat lady…
4. Shooting zombies from the roof, most amusing.
5. Two buses (both modified), one boat. What can go wrong?
Hopes were not high when a remake of seminal zombie movie Dawn of the Dead was announced. And with good reason – remakes are hardly renowned for their quality and are often pale comparisons of the original, particularly when the original is well loved by many people. The doubters needn’t have worried though, as the 2004 edition of holing up in a mall at the start of a zombie apocalypse is very good indeed. When it was released on DVD I was deep in the depths of my obsession with the zombie genre, so in a bid to watch the film on release day I journeyed out to our local shopping centre to buy it. HMV was a disappointment as they had the standard edition but I wanted the extended Directors Cut. I had to go to Woolworths of all places as they were the only ones who had it. At £17.99 for a standard DVD it was an expensive purchase, but well worth it at the time and in hindsight. That said, at the time of writing this review I can now buy the same DVD for £3.64 or the Blu-Ray for £19.99. So it goes.
The basic premise matches the original film – a group of survivors set up camp in a shopping mall when a zombie apocalypse wipes out civilisation. There’s a lot more survivors this time round, which initially gives cause for concern. Not everybody is a fully rounded character for sure, but there’s enough to warrant their presence and to get an idea of what makes them tick. With this many characters floating around (and yet more are introduced as we move along) it had the possibility of becoming incredibly cluttered, but it all balances out nicely. Of the core cast, as in the ones you’re supposed to care about, Ving Rhames is solid as tough cop Kenneth (yeah, his name’s not so tough) and Sarah Polley is likeable and resilient as Ana, who’s world is destroyed in the opening ten minutes by the zombiefied girl who lives next door. Everyone else has a few character beats, with the closest anyone gets to an arc is security guard CJ who learns, no word of a lie, to trust the other survivors thanks to a questionnaire in a magazine. There’s very little downtime as far as action goes, even in the extended cut, so horror and action fans are both well catered for.
Of course the main point of cinematic note is that this is technically the first film to give us sprinting zombies. For the record, 28 Days Later doesn’t count as they are infected with rage rather than dead. Compared to the original and, indeed, every other zombie film up until this point, introducing sprinting zombies was a proverbial shot in the arm for the genre and proved to be a Very Good Thing (TM). Sprinters are equally as scary as their shuffling brethren but for completely different reasons. The shuffling undead are all well and good as they represent an unstoppable threat, a constant sense of foreboding that, whilst slow will catch up with you eventually. A bit like death then. Sprinting zombies are a completely different kettle of fish. Unless you;re an Olympic runner or happen to have a massive number of guns (with bullets, of course) then you’re probably going to die.
Snyder’s Dawn receives plaudits for the special effects, both practical and CGI, and the decision to have the zombies undergo three stages of decay as the film progresses is a stroke of genius. There’s also a very good reason for it receiving an 18 rating in the UK – just watch that claret fly! It also receive brownie points for squeezing in cameos and references to the original film’s cast, crew and setting. Ken Foree pops up as a TV evangelist and gets to say THAT line again, and the mall is packed with little nods to those associated with Romero’s original. Some bits don’t really work (the only zombie baby you ever need to see is the one from Braindead), but you can forgive little issues like that because on the whole it’s thoroughly good.
The soundtrack is rather good too. I’m not sure sure how much Disturbed were paid but Down With The Sickness pops up three times, in three different variations. Disturbed’s original? Yep, fine. A lounge version by Richard Cheese? Sign me up. A lift muzak edition? Er, yeah okay then, why not? There’s also the genius use of The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash. In fact it’s because of this film that I started listening to Cash, so it’s something else I can thank this film for.
Let’s ignore the fact this is a remake, simply because it works as a film in its own right. The survivors trapped in a mall or other large building trope is part of the fabric of the zombie genre anyway, and it’s quite a way away from both the style and the story of the original so it’s more a re-imagining than an actual remake. However you look at it, reboots of established film properties are not always a bad thing. Mostly, yes, but not always. This one’s worth your time.
Favourite scene: Sniping zombies from the roof of the mall, picking them out based on their resemblance to famous celebrities.
Quote: “Oh, I get it. You saw hell yesterday. Now you’re scared of going to hell for all the bad things you’ve done. I’ll tell you what. Go in the stall, say five Hail Marys, wipe your ass, and you and God can call it even.”
Silly Moment: Using a chainsaw in a moving bus. Bad idea, bro.