“So, what’s the plan?”
“The plan is you drink a nice tall glass of shut the f*ck up.”
Dawn of the Dead, man.
Talk about zombie legacy. Talk about fertile ground for a new interpretations, new visions. A lot has changed in the last several decades, including advances in technology, special effects, and the ability to tell stories in general. We, as a society, have also (obviously) changed.
Zombies now pervade our culture, manifested as rampaging, blood-thirsty antagonists or sympathetic, affable love sick young zombie men (Warm Bodies). So, it’s safe to say the way we view zombies, the “reality” of their existence as an eventuality rather than a nightmare, has also changed.
The 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 film of the same name attempts to move the zombie mythology forward, into (at the time) new spaces. This includes an important behavioral shift in the zombies themselves, consciously making an effort to intensify the creatures – they’re faster and more aggressive. They also spend less time on screen where you can get a good look at them.
Starring Ving Rhames (Kenneth Hall), Sarah Polley (Ana) and Jake Weber (Michael), the film centers on a group of people who, in fleeing from a horde of zombies, find themselves holed up in a local mall. Cross Roads Mall (the reference is a little heavy handed, but what the hell). Among the group, a police officer named Kenneth (Rhames), a nurse named Ana (Polley), a pregnant woman and her husband, and a television salesman at Best Buy named Michael (Weber). The group is met and initially held captive by three mall security guards who want to ensure no one tries to steal anything from the mall still, potentially, in their care.
There is a struggle for control, but eventually, the group pulls together (more or less) and manages to make due for over a month (thankfully, there was a coffee shop). Their numbers swell unexpectedly when the mall is crashed into by a truck, carrying with it another group of survivors. As the two groups of people attempt to assimilate, Ana (who is pivotal thanks to her medical knowledge as a nurse) makes the connection between infection and being bitten.
With resources dwindling, relationships strained, and their seemingly secure fortress being infiltrated, the group decides it’s better to try to escape than to die in the mall. As they begin preparations to leave, it becomes known that the pregnant woman has been bitten, and infected. As the virus takes her, she dies and reanimates in time to finish giving birth to what can only be thought of as a zombie infant. A girl.
Unsafe sex. Not even once.
The group, using two souped up shuttles found in the garage of the mall, escape. Against insurmountable odds, they manage to make their way to the marina where the few remaining survivors cast off and head out to sea, toward an unsure fate.
The 2004 remake of the George A. Romero film Dawn of the Dead does something few sequels manage, and it does so easily. It can stand on its own. You needn’t have seen any of the original Romero films (although if you haven’t, this is a shame and should be rectified at once), or any of the other remakes, in order to get what’s going in Dawn of the Dead. It’s a feat, and trust me, it’s easier said that done.
Thanks to clever editing, solid characters, and a steady pace, Dawn of the Dead manages to be a halfway decent stand alone. Not only that, but, thanks to a “shocking” and/or controversial concept, the remake of Dawn of the Dead also manages to be fresh, identifying itself not just as an update to the original, but as a bonafide new vision of the original subject matter.
By the way, the word “zombie” is never mentioned in Dawn of the Dead (yes, I’m purposefully excluding bonus materials). The infected are merely referred to as “cannibals” or “undead”. They play less of a role in the film than one would expect since their presence is always being inferred, feared, or mentioned even if they, themselves, are not onscreen.
Dawn of the Dead spends a lot of time focusing on the interpersonal struggles within the group. When an action sequence finally does occur, it is all the more rewarding because the audience has been allowed to feel safe and momentarily forget the zombie threat.
The opening, title, and end title sequences are great – overlaid with powerful, energetic, emotional tracks like “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash, “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed, and “People Who Died” performed by the Jim Carroll Band, Dawn of the Dead has the right energy to be the kind of horror film that becomes a fan favorite.
Official Site: Dawn of the Dead
Wiki facts: Dawn of the Dead
Rotten or Fresh? 75%
Watch or Buy Dawn of the Dead now on Amazon
How did Dawn of the Dead fare at the box office?
Related: The Legacy of the Living Dead