Dawn of the Dead (2004)


Ebert: Christian Science Monitor: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Dawn of the Dead is a super terrific movie and my prediction that it would be "bigger than Jesus" came true.  I think it's hilarious that the movie that finally dethroned The Passion of the Christ from it's #1 position was Dawn of the Dead.  That's funny.

I love Zombie movies.  There's just something about the "living dead" that makes me happy, so I was really excited to see this film.  Ever since they started playing the teaser previews a few months ago I've been counting the days.  The movie is as excellent as I expected and will be a fine addition to the genre.  

Remakes.  You can't read a review for Dawn of the Dead without hearing about how this is a remake of the "better" 1979 original by George Romero.  I agree that Romero is the godfather of zombie pictures (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead) and he should be respected as such, but lets not put him up on a re-animated pedestal.  Although Night of the Living Dead has become more respected over time, the original Dawn of the Dead was never considered to be that great of a movie.  See my review of last year's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake to see the new trend where reviewers "remember" with new found admiration the films that they probably trashed 25 years earlier.  Lets stipulate to the fact that the original was good, and now talk about how this new version is better.

First of all the essential story is the same.  Some sort of virus-type disease infects the population.  The people who are infected, by the bite of someone who is a carrier, quickly die and then even quicker re-animate as flesh starved zombies.  There is no explanation as to how or where the disease comes from, it just appears.  As the infection spreads chaos ensues and society immediately breaks down.  A small band of survivors make their way to the local shopping mall and barricade themselves inside.  As their numbers dwindle, and their security fails, they eventually realize that they must try to escape somewhere that the zombies can't reach them.  

My favorite thing about the movie is that like the "Rage Zombies" in 28 Days Later, these zombies are super fast.  They don't lurch along, they run everywhere at top speed and throw themselves at their prey.  They are psychotic and will do anything to catch you.  Although some have said that the never-ending slow determination of the original lumbering zombies is more chilling, I would disagree and say that a crazed shrieking zombie sprinting wildly toward you is scarier.  

The zombie make-up is better too.  They're not just gray fleshed sleepy looking people.  These zombies immediately start rapidly decomposing and are covered in the hideous wounds received when they were originally turned.  Most are also drenched in the blood of their victims.  The survivors are pretty blood soaked too.  Also the killing of the zombies is much more realistic and graphic.  Instead of the original knife in the head type makeup that you can now buy at Walmart  for Halloween, these zombies actually get parts of their heads blown off as well as impaled and chainsawed.  It's just more fun!

One of the complaints about this remake is that it doesn't focus on the "zombies as a metaphor for consumers" theme that was more prevalent in the original.  I would argue that the message is there, it's just presented in a more subtle way.  The cheery happy mall muzak soundtrack that is piped in through the building sound system makes for some hilarious moments during zombie attacks.  And there are a few scenes that show the survivors indulging in the products and amenities of the mall.  Lets be clear, Dawn of the Dead is first and foremost a zombie movie, despite the secondary themes and labels that the sociologists have assigned it.  Just because some stoner graduate student wrote a dissertation about it doesn't make it a message movie.  

My only complaint is that I would have liked to see the fall of civilization part of the film at the beginning stretched out a little longer.  I love watching all the chaos and TV news coverage.  It's fun, and probably pretty realistic, how quickly the social fabric unravels.  

The actors all do a fine job seem to have had fun with the roles.  Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer are the only big name stars.  Sarah Polley and Jake Weber take the two lead roles.  Michael Kelly has one of the best parts in the movie playing the super-jerk head mall security guard.  His character is so despicable you want to leap into the movie and kill him yourself.  Matt Frewer pops up for a few minutes too.  (I just saw him last night in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.  I had never noticed he was even in it!)

Dawn of the Dead is a great zombie movie.  Definitely one of the best of the genre.  If you've been waiting for a really excellent well made zombie picture then this is the one for you!  It will be a good rental on DVD but if you get a chance go see it on a busy night sometime this weekend with a crowd of screaming teenagers.  That's the most fun. 

Special Note:  Stay through the entire credits at the end of the film.  If you don't, you will not really know how it all turns out.