Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn_of_the_Dead_2004_movie-Review by Paul Ewbank-

So it goes without saying that Liz is the zombie expert of this blog. That pic of me on the “about the authors” page was her idea. If there was a reason behind taking it save for the sheer lols, I can’t remember what it was. Liz likes zombies. As it was in the beginning, is now and shall be till they walk the earth among us and she realises they really aren’t as much fun as we’d all hoped.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good zombie flick when I see one. And 2004’s remake of the genre-igniting classic Dawn of the Dead is a good zombie flick. It does exactly what you’d expect a zombie film to do: take a bunch of people from all walks of life, shove them all in a confined space (a mall in this case) with hordes of cannibal corpses all around, and let the carnage begin. The first great thing about Dawn is that it wastes virtually no time on exposition or setup. Within the first five minutes the virus is unleashed and neighbours are biting each other’s heads off. The title sequence is a blast too. All of the character and plot stuff comes later, in between regular bouts of gore and action, so the pace never drags and it all feels very organically put together. The characters are fairly archetypal, but that’s fine- it just means you know where you stand with them from the word go, and a couple reveal more complexity than you might expect. Ving Rhames is utterly badass as a silent, shotgun wielding cop and Michael Kelly rivals him as a paranoid, control freakish mall security guy. There’s a pretty large cast of protagonists, which is good since it means lots of them can die and go all “I want to eat your brains” on the survivors, which is always a hoot.

Nuh man. I'm pretty f***in' far from ok.
Insert Pulp Fiction quote of your choice here. I was torn between “Nah man, I’m pretty f***ing far from ok” and “I’ma get medieval on yo ass.” Both quotes work in ANY situation.

This was director Zack Snyder’s first film and he was already mastering the trademark style of glorious visual excess he perfected in 300 and Sucker Punch (the latter of which is a ridiculously underrated film, by the way, and I’m not just saying that ‘cos it has lots of hot girls with guns). The first big set piece of heroine Ana driving through a quiet suburban district being torn apart by the undead is breathtaking: tense, frightening and shot like you’re sat on the back seat being flung around by every swerve and impact. Towards the finale the remaining heroes try to escape by pimping out a couple of busses with barbed wire, snow ploughs and chainsaw grooves, and every awe inspiring top down shot of the undead mob surrounding them reminds you that this was the guy who made every damn frame of Watchmen into a work of art.

Dawn of the Dead might be the most basic of zombocalypse (I’m officially coining that word) premises, and horror fans today have probably seen the same idea done dozens of times. I honestly have no idea how it holds up to the George Romero original, but it’s probably quite telling of the mentality of the two directors that Romero’s zombies shuffle towards you slowly and ominously while Snyder’s sprint at you full pelt. Why waste time walking when stuff could already be blowing up if you were running? So yes: not a smart film (although it is smartly made– there’s a difference), or a particularly original one. But it’s done well, it gets straight to the point and it delivers the goods. By ‘the goods’ I mean lots of death, chainsaws and explosions. What more could you want for a rainy Tuesday afternoon?

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