…then Zach Snyder will remake your movie and give it that yellow-y tint that all his movies seem to have. The remake I speak of is 2004’s Dawn of the Dead. Now, I know that remakes are considered anathema amongst the “cool” movie audiences, sipping their lattes and talking about some hot indie actor like, like, Morgan Freeman. But not all remakes are bad. For me, intent is a major issue. Are you a director that wants to revisit a past film that was maybe hindered by technology and budget and time? Or, are you looking for a prepackaged script and storyline to turn into a ninety-minute music video to highlight the latest it guy and/or girl? I think we can say that most of the people who fall in the latter category are what the French call, les douchebags. Happily, I don’t think that Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead falls into that category. Aside from the title and the fact that the survivors of a zombie epidemic hide in a mall, the remake exists pretty much as an independent entity from the original.
The first thing that I like about this movie is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some movies are meant to be very, very serious, but this isn’t one of them. Ana (Played by the ever awesome Sarah Polley–she was Ramona Quimby in the Ramona series that I could never watch on tv because we didn’t get the Disney Channel!) is ending a long shift at the hospital where she works. Things seem a little strange but she just wants to get home. But what’s this? Is this EMT dead in the back of his own ambulance?
He’s not dead, just sleeping. But it made me laugh because the hospital is the last place I’d want to be in the event of zombies. Everyone goes to the hospital. I’d be hunkered down in my apartment, waiting to see when I should hoof it to my mom’s isolated rural house.
After a severely awkward love-scene, Ana wakes up to a suburban nightmare. Although, I do have to admit that it’s a little refreshing seeing suburbia burn.
After crashing her car, Ana runs into officer Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames). If you want me to watch a movie, you should tell me that Ving Rhames is in it. He is thoroughly badass but I secretly want to hug him.
Part of what I like about this movie are the over-the-top special effects. The original was fun, what with its cartoonish red blood, but the deaths in this movie look real. Really gross. Haw.
Or check out this character. A second group of survivors bring her to the mall.
I have the unrated edition and if you watch the behind-the-scenes special, you find out that the woman is a man, baby. No woman was willing to ugly themselves up enough to play her so a guy did it. I don’t get that, I would go full ugly for a role in a horror movie.
I also like the cameos played by members of the original cast. Recognize this guy?
That’s special effects wizard Tom Savini, who also played one of the bad bikers in the original Dawn of the Dead.
How about this guy?
That’s Ken Foree, who played Peter in the original. Also, there’s a store in the movie called Gaylen Ross, a shout-out to the woman who played Fran.
Ana and Kenneth meet up with another group who all go to hide at the mall. The mall’s being watched by some paranoid security guards, who are quickly outnumbered. Another group joins them there and this is when the movie begins to fall apart. I think that Romero was wise to keep the original cast small, because this larger cast has little room for character development and they become quickly interchangeable. I’ve seen this movie a lot–for all its flaws it’s still one of my favorites–but I barely know any of the character’s names and I have to keep referring to Wikipedia. That’s how interchangeable people are.
There are some nice moments, though. When the morbidly obese woman dies, the group realizes that no one knew her name and Tucker, an older gent who twisted his ankle comments how sad this is. I also liked when the group is painting S.O.S. messages on the roof and the camera keeps panning away. They’re dwarfed by the enormity of the situation and the undead are starting to make their way to the mall.
The characters start to get comfortable in the mall. There’s ample food and water, lots of entertainment, and no undead are getting in despite the barely barricaded doors. Everything isn’t well, though, because Luda, who’s pregnant has also been bitten. This leads to one of the creepiest birthing scenes outside of Alien. Luda dies in childbirth, reanimates, and gives birth to a CGI-zombie two-month-old. You have to give Snyder props for the ballsiness of that move.
Norma shoots Luda, Andre (Luda’s husband, played by Mekhi Phifer) shoots Norma, and I guess they all decide to kill the baby. Kenneth remarks that he used to be secretly glad when other people died because it wasn’t him who died, but now he knows that there are worse things than death. He should have read Harry Potter, Dumbledore makes that pretty clear.
The characters decide that they’ve had enough of confinement. They’ve also struck up a friendship with Andy, the proprietor of a gun shop across the street, who’s slowly starving. They decide to build some mini-Dead Reckonings out of mall shuttles and escape to Lake Michigan. This serves as a catalyst to pick off most of the cast until my favorite guy, Michael, is left behind due to a bite from a zombie.
The fate of the survivors is left up in the air, even if you watch the extra scenes through the ending credits.
Now, I really like this movie, it’s actually one of my favorites and I’ve watched it a lot but I do have some bones to pick with it.
First of all, can we call a moratorium on all horror movies opening with generic scenes of violence with some ironic music played over it? Thanks, now that that is out of the way…
The sex-scene between Ana and her husband is one of the most unappealing sex scenes I’ve ever seen. The weird part is that it’s not a very long scene but it feels like it was filmed in icky vision.
Third, I hate the idea of sending the dog, Chips, to help Andy. I had an idea, and it’s a little wacky, but I think it could work. They have the know-how to add all that armor to those busses, there’s even a montage of people welding. Why not build a catapult or a trebuchet to send some packs of food to Andy? Plus, you could launch lit propane tanks like C.J. did, to clear the streets before picking Andy up.
Here’s Andy’s shop in relation to the mall;
This is a trebuchet;
It’s like a catapult but the counterweight on the short arm allows the projectile to get more distance. The record distance at pumpkin chunking is 2,034 feet with eight to ten pound pumpkins. I’m awful at estimating distance but that can’t be more than a quarter of a mile between Andy and the mall. There’s a book shop in the mall too, you see Ana sitting in it, so they could have had access to this. They could have even rigged up some kind of enormous pulley system between the mall and Andy’s and shared supplies. I know, I know, then this would be an entirely different movie. That would have been my strategy, though.
Their idea to go to a lake makes me pause. If zombies don’t have to breathe then they can go to where we can’t go, including underwater. We saw that in Land of the Dead. If the Zombie Survival Manual has taught me anything, it’s to guard the anchor line.
Finally, I’m just not crazy about fast zombies. I could deal with them in 28 Days Later because they weren’t really dead–just sick. But these people have died. You think that decomposition would render them slower, as their muscles and organs degenerate.
Still, I really like this movie. It’s not the best zombie movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s really different from the original. But it still delivers good performances and manages to be scary. This remake is one that can be recommended.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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