Dawn Of The Dead

4 stars


2nd January 2005

Bad news for supermodels, because if you really want to be in fashion, you're going to have to slim down even more in 2004 - this season, the zombie look is in vogue. Arriving on the back of a mini genre revival thanks to Danny Boyle's inventive 28 Days Later is a remake of the George A. Romero classic, Dawn of the Dead. Upon waking one morning to find her family and neighbours chowing down on homo-sapien, Ana (Sarah Polley) and some fellow stragglers are forced to find refuge in a nearby mall, defending themselves from the relentless forces of the living dead and protecting themselves from infectious, brooding paranoia.

If you're expecting a Gus Van Sant-style shot-for-shot remake of Romero's original, then think again - Boyle's athletic 'infected' made sure that the lumbering, brain-dead, dumbass zombie of yesteryear will never seem quite as scary as they once used to. No, Dawn of the Dead 2004's zombies are fast. Super fast, in fact. Even the fat ones, and the ones with no legs. While the 1978 original undoubtedly benefited from its slow, impending sense of doom and claustrophobia, Zack Snyder's remake brings with it a fresh new threat, namely zombies that can run like the wind and have an unquenchable lust for flesh.

Where the original took a dig at rampant consumerism and capitalism, there's nothing so clever to be found in the remake, with subtle social commentary replaced with excessive violence, none of which is particularly inventive. Sure, the original was positively brimming with gut-churning gore, but here all we're treated to is repeated gunshots to the head, the odd chainsaw wound and a solitary poker through the eye - nothing you've not seen before. However, when our protagonists aren't wielding firearms or decapitating their undead enemies, Snyder does a fine job in setting up tense set-pieces - the nine minute pre-credit sequence, for example, is an excellent introduction and really helps set up a foreboding sense of dread for the rest of the movie. The more frantic scenes suffer from similarly frantic editing meaning some impact is lost, but on the whole, Dawn of the Dead succeeds in bringing the action segments of the film kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Another plus point for the Dawn remake is the use of fairly unknown actors for the most part - Polley and Ving Rhames aside, none of the other actors are particularly recognisable, so you're never quite sure who's going to end up zombie fodder and who isn't. Unfortunately, the cast is too big and the characters too thinly spread - at one point, a whole truck full of new characters is introduced when we've barely been given time to get to know the existing ones. It's difficult to care for a character when they've only had three lines, and you'll often find yourself forgetting that certain survivors are even still alive - if two or three peripheral characters could have been trimmed from the final cut, then it would have allowed for a tighter script and some better interplay between the main players. As it is, only Polley, Rhames and reluctant good guy Jake Weber have enough screen time to make their mark.

To be fair, the zombies are the real stars here. If you were worried that running zombies wouldn't quite fit into the theme of the movie, then you can relax - it's hard to imagine how Dawn of the Dead would have captured the same feeling of intense panic using your run-of-the-mill Johnny Brain-eater. Snyder's athletic breed of zombie not only installs a heightened state of fear into the main characters (and indeed the audience), but also allows the movie to move quickly and remain frightening in its modern day setting. Although it may have been unintentional on the production crew's part to have the audience rooting for the undead hordes around halfway through, it's certainly a testament to Romero's original vision that the zombie is still a powerful and terrifying creature.

Comparing the remake to the original will ultimately lead you up a blind alley - they're both very different beasts, and while you might find one version brings you out in a cold sweat, the other may have you wondering what all the fuss is about. However, thankfully some originality and ingenuity has been added, including the introduction of a stranded survivor in a neighbouring building and the fantastic 'celebrity shoot out' scene (in which a Rosie O'Donnell zombie-a-like is spared from a bullet due to being too large a target). You can't argue that Dawn of the Dead doesn't deliver what it promises, and with an eclectic soundtrack and some slick special effects, there's no doubting that it's perfect Saturday night popcorn entertainment. Romero purists may well be up in arms at the lack of any real deeper meaning, but if you're hankering after a tension-filled, gore-soaked horror movie that can't be bothered being ironic or self-important, then Dawn of the Dead is just about as clinical as a shotgun blast to the head.

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