March 2004 Archives

Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Review

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

(d: Zack Snyder; s: Sarah Polly, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Pfifer)

First and foremost, please put aside any attempts to compare this movie to the original Dawn of the Dead (1978, d: Romero). The only similarities to be found are (1) zombies - duh!, (2) a shopping mall, and (3) Tom Savini. Like many people who loved both movies, I really wish they would have released this film under a different name (the best I heard floating around - 'No Room In Hell'), but alas that's not the case. So the film has to suffer through the baggage that the title brings with it.

However, watching the movie as a solo effort, unlinked to previous entries in the zombie genre, it kicks some serious ass! Many people continue to complain about the 'fast' zombies (a la 28 Days Later), and while I personally prefer the creepy factor that comes along with the hordes of the shambling undead, the quickness here fits the mood of the movie, which is fast and furious.

The first ten minutes of the film are perhaps the best - nurse Ana (Polly) is getting off of a long shift at work, goes home to her husband, and engages in some shower aerobics - all while missing the 'Breaking News' alerts on the radio and TV. Upon waking, Ana and her husband find out that their world has turned upside down, and only one of them makes it out of their fine suburban home alive. The madness of watching Ana drive through the collapsing suburbia that has become a strange combination of the comfortable and the horrible is one of the most compelling scenes in the film.

Without spoiling too much, Ana eventually winds up finding some fellow survivors and winds up holing up with them in a mall, safely surrounded by shatter proof glass (that, surprisingly enough, remains so throughout the movie!). Their small community grows slowly as a small pack of survivors makes it to the mall in a truck, and they are joined in their efforts by Andy, a gun store owner who is holed up just down the street from the mall. Kenneth (Rhames) starts communicating with Andy through binoculars and dry-erase boards, and their relationship keeps the middle of the film interesting.

As far as performances go, Ving Rhames' Kenneth steals this movie so effortlessly it's almost amusing. It's nearly a 'What if Marcellus Wallace was in a zombie film' situation - except he's a cop. Other characters of note include mall security head CJ (played aptly by Michael Kelly), whom you hate at the beginning but hate less near the end; Michael, the goody-two-shoes smarty-boy played by Jake Weber; and the wisecracking asshole yuppie Steve (Ty Burrell), whom you're just waiting to get his just desserts.

The other characters are pretty much standard throwaway horror movie cliches (not that CJ, Michael, and Steve above aren't, but the actors' performances raise them a little above the mean here) - Ana's the sensitive-but-strong woman forced into a situation beyond her control; Andre (Mekhi Phifer) is the stong-willed black man determined to give his child everything he didn't have; Nicole (Lindy Booth) is the young girl who attaches to a dog after watching her family killed. Not to say that these aren't good performances - they are, but the development just isn't there, and even in a zombie movie you should care a little about some of the people you're watching become Zombie Chow.

Direction and special effects are excellent. The mood is captured very well with the contrast between the bright, open air shopping mall that acts as the characters' haven and the dark, claustrophobic world of the zombies. The change from human to zombie is quick and definitive, and their eyes look absolutely stunning. The quick-edit MTV cut techniques are kept to a minimum, and some of the panning shots of the crowds of zombies keep you informed as to the desperate state that our friends are finding themselves in.

All in all, this movie is everything that 28 Days Later and Cabin Fever wished that they could be. It's a classic, frightening, fun horror movie that takes you quickly back to the days when these were the rule, and not the exception. Definitely a must-see for any fan of the genre.