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Dawn of the Dead

dir: Zack Snyder
[img_assist|nid=972|title=Zombies running? Who ever heard of something so absurd?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=636]
The sheer abundance of zombie related material put out in the last few
years points to either a large group of movie industry types thinking
that zombie stuff is a goldmine, or a large audience out there that is
hungry, hungry for brains. In the last two years alone I can think of
a whole bunch of films that had zombies as the scourge staggering
open-mouthed towards Our Heroes, in a fashion incompetent enough to
generally have their heads blown off only at the most crucial or
comical moments.

Though many will point to 28 Days Later as the resurgence point, they
would be wrong. At least one zombie film has been coming out a year
since time immemorial; it's just that most of them were going straight
to video. It really restarted with the release, I'm not kidding, of
Resident Evil, where as anyone with the DVD can attest, not only did
Milla Jovovich show far more than she and God probably intended, but
it also began the inexorable march of the zombie legions back into our
multiplexes as well.

This remake of the 1978 Romero original is neither the best nor the
worst of the recent zombie onslaught (with 28 Days Later at the top of
the heap for my money, other entries being Versus, Undead, Shaun of
the Dead, Resident Evil, House of the Dead, House of a Thousand
Corpses, Glitter
), and makes a good enough fist of the original to
justify its re-imagining. I may consider the original to be a classic
zombie film, but that doesn't mean I consider it to be so sacrosanct a
movie that to remake it would be blasphemous. It really wasn't that
great a movie. Like the hallowed Texas Chainsaw Massacre that was
remade last year, the impact of the original had little to do with the
quality of the overall construction. The 'shock of the new' at the
time is what impacted upon people's cerebellums, even when the film
itself may have been pretty ordinary.

Dawn of the Dead may have originally been a sly satire on mall culture
and mindless consumerism, but the film's other merits are essentially
on the level of the visceral, as opposed to the intellectual
(obviously). Few that saw it as teenagers will forget scenes where
characters have their internal organs slowly ripped out by a pack of
zombies and shown to them. Sure these days you look at it and see how
fake it all is, but back then, goddamn, that shit must have warped
many a young mind.

Not mine of course.

To just briefly refer to one of the main bones of contention between
those that prefer the horror classics and those that can appreciate
the contemporary spin placed on the genre by the recent entries, the
traditional zombie's slow shuffle was seen as being one of the
scariest elements, not just their love of sweetmeats. There is / was
something tense, something creepy about the inexorable shuffle, the
unstoppable nature of these dumb creatures. It was the fact that they
would eventually get you; it was their relentlessness that frightened
people. James Cameron picked up on that with the original Terminator
film. It didn't matter how fast the creature was coming towards you,
the crucial thing was that it felt like it would never stop.

The zombies no longer shuffle along at a snail's pace. Their hunger is
voracious, and they run RUN at the healthy meatbags that are their
targets. It's not for me to tell people what's scarier, I think it
depends on the quality of the individual movies, because either style
can and has been done effectively or with the quality and texture of a
shit sandwich.

In this contemporary age of course, science is usually the culprit
rather than the supernatural, and that's okay. We don't really care.
The original Dawn didn't confirm or deny the cause, though was some
reference to a probe returning from Venus or Uranus or something. The
zombies themselves are just the mindless, ravenous force that is
trying to kill Our Heroes. We, or more accurately I want the heroes to
survive and to kill the zombies in interesting ways with a few one
liners and maybe a few scary moments to top the whole thing off. I
also don't want either the story or the characters to be too stupid,
because then I really don't care about the protagonists and start
cheering on the zombies.

The remake mostly delivers on the low benchmarks that I have for
enjoying a zombie movie. It's macabre enough, has a few scares and a
modicum of tension, some of the characters aren't so painful or
annoying that I wish the actors that played them dead as well (a
mistake that the recent Australian zombie flick Undead made
unfortunately, rendering what could have been a decent enough shlocky
flick almost unendurable), and the tone strikes the right balance
between humour and horror.

The movie's best move was putting Johnny Cash's 'The Man Comes Around'
right at the start, playing over the intro credits and epileptically
edited scenes of carnage in the news as the zombies start taking over
and anarchy begins to predominate. Our heroine Ana, who first fends
off her family, is clueless as to what's going on, but she's a trooper
(well, a nurse actually), so she doesn't go into complete shock or
fits of teary nose-blowing. Despite having been in much better films
than this previously, Sarah Polley in the role does a pretty good job,
though let's face it few of the many people involved in this needed to
give anything more than one-note performances. Run, shoot, crack wise,
scream, rinse, repeat. The day they train shaved monkeys to do this
Hollywood will start saving a fortune.

Along the way she bumps into an extremely Gung-Ho Cop (Ving Rhames)
who seems, despite the surrounding cannibal apocalypse, to be purely
in his element. They bump into more people, and they make the wise
decision to hide from the hordes in a mall. Everything you could ever
want is at the mall, surely. For all your anti-zombie needs.

One of the crew is Sensible White Guy (Boyd Banks). He is the voice of
reason, the guy that doesn't go crazy under pressure and always knows
the right thing to do. His opposite is Nervous Black Guy with a
Criminal Past Who Just Wants to Have a Family and Be a Good Daddy
(Mekhi Phifer). He has a very pregnant Russian wife, who's just
waiting for the right place to drop her bundle. When they get to the
mall, far from being safe, they must first deal with Over-Compensating
Wannabe Alpha Male Security Guard, Stupid Security Guard, and
Sensitive Security Guard.

When a truck appears bringing more meatbags to the party, we have
Obnoxious Wealthy Playboy, Spoiled Sexpot, Old Wise Woman, Middle Aged
Accountant With No Purpose and a few other people of no more
consequence than as the requisite zombie fodder.

After the initial terror, things settle down a tad. Thus you have the
obligatory montage scenes where people go crazy with the material
goods, trying on expensive lingerie and playing with hellishly
expensive crap because none of it means anything anymore. The film of
course can't leave well enough alone, and we realise that either the
zombies will get in or the humans will have to leave for whatever
reason. I guess it wouldn't have been much of a story if a few years
passed with the survivors going slowly bug-fuckingly crazy. Actually,
now there's an interesting idea. Give me a cut of the royalties, you
budding shmuck screenwriters.

I can't really say if there was any intelligent reason why they left
the mall. Of course even a mall would run out of food eventually, but
surely a supermarket in the mall would have had enough food to feed
ten people for months on end, in canned goods alone.

Whatever, they find a reason to force themselves to leave the mall.
Cue the theme from The A-Team, where somehow they have the gear to
transform two buses into urban zombie killing machines, with bulldozer
scoops and access points for chainsaws to get at the feisty undead and
all. Only in Hollywood does this magic exist.

Regardless of what happens from there, you've already gotten your
money's worth if all of your expectations were based on the trailer.
People die. There are explosions. A guy with a sniper rifle gets to
blow the heads off of people who look like celebrities. That was
mildly amusing. A guy does a really cool Bruce Campbell impression for
the movie's duration. People die horribly. You can't trust anyone
because even the ones that aren't infected could just be so stupid
that they're more dangerous than the zombies. When driving the
souped-up vans amongst the hordes it did look like a Metallica gig
gone awry, which was cool. Also, zombie heads going smoosh is funny.

For what ever reason, many of the plot developments that occur in
horror movies explicitly require someone doing something stupid.
People do stupid things as a catalyst for the situation to worsen or
for more carnage to occur. This movie is no exception, of course, but
none of you were expecting otherwise, be honest. Stupidity reigns
supreme here, as people invariably do dumb thing after dumb thing to
make an already difficult situation almost impossible. I find it hard
to sympathise with stupid characters in movies, because it makes it
hard for me to care about them. In real life I am nothing if not
overflowing with sympathy for stupid people, it's just that I'm only
one person, and I only have so much sympathy to give. I can't extend
it to the realm of idiots in cinema, I just can't, try as I might.

Thus certain situations arise further on which you think are pretty
fucking stupid and could have been easily avoided by any reasonable
bunch of people. Watching the film and whilst writing this review I've
thought of at least a dozen ways the characters could have gotten out
of the dire situation they were in, especially considering many of the
elements they already showed us were available to them (a gun shop
full of ammo, a large supply of petrol, underground car park full of
cars, makeshift explosives, pressurised gas cylinders, matches, you do
the math).

Still, the image of being under siege by tens of thousands of ravenous
zombies did make things look pretty bleak. And the eventual resolution
to Our Heroes problem's ends up being more of a homage to classic 70s
horror flicks than most remakes intend. Also the tone of the
proceedings is extremely black at certain points, to the extent where
some scenes managed to surprise the hell out of me with how nasty they
got. Mostly I'm thinking of how the whole 'family values' subplot is
resolved. Brrr. Very cold.

Production values are pretty good for something this shlocky. The
budget is probably 20 times what it was on the original, due probably
to the fact that I doubt they used bags of rotting animal offal as an
'effect' (as in the original) when they could use digital trickery
instead. Much nicer for the actors, I bet. This being a representation
of contemporary America supposedly, the blasé manner in which people
first accept what's going on, then laugh off the death of loved ones
in minutes, and become happy to fuck other people over in even less
time is almost depressing. For people that aren't cynics already, of
course.

The vicious post-zombie apocalyptic setting is well served by the
seemingly urine stained lens over the camera, the hasty editing and
the soundtrack. It never gets as good as the Johnny Cash opener, and
mostly sounds like the stuff Rob Zombie pumps out at a moment's notice
for every horror film that gets made, but it does have a lovely muzak
version of 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' which brought a substantial chill
to my heart.

As well, if you're going to bother watching it, you need to watch the
credits at the end, at least most of the way through. If you hated the
movie, you're going to think 'great, now it's even MORE pointless than
I imagined it could be'. If you liked it, or are a crazy monkey on
crack, you might think 'Cool' before getting distracted by something
shiny. For the nerds out there the film contains cameos by Scott
Reiniger, Tom Savini (horror effects maestro) and Ken Foree from the
original as well, so, you know, that's just one less reason to watch
it.

Is it any good? Well, if you've had a few drinks, if you like shlocky
horror stuff and have no time for concepts like character development,
sensible plots or giving a damn about what you're watching, this can
be an enjoyable festival o'zombie for you. If not, if you're
unspeakably unimpressed with the movie as I described it and find this
whole horror malarkey juvenile and pointless, then What Were You
Thinking Reading This Review Anyway, Eh?

6 times an accountant with a chainsaw accidentally cuts a
superfluous bimbo character in half out of 10

--
'Fucking figures!' - CJ, Dawn of the Dead

Rating:

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