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TAC Reviews...Dawn of the Dead

 

Dawn of the Dead is a 2004 remake of the George A Romero film of the same name made in 1978. Both films depict survivors of a zombie outbreak hiding in a shopping mall as armies of the living dead gather outside. The film stars Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer, it was directed by Zack Snyder

 

Dawn of the Dead - 2004 Remake Poster

 

I am as big a fan of horror as the next guy and I do have a certain fondness for zombie films, but that being said, the structure of most zombie films seems to be pretty much the same. There always seem to be one person who gets bitten and keeps it quiet until they change, generally getting someone else killed in the process. There are also humans that are using the carnage to do as they please. Usually the jerk guy bangs the slutty girl. Then the nice guy and the nice girl seemingly get together only for one of them to get bitten trying to save the other one and end up dead.

 

Not surprisingly as Dawn of the Dead is a remake it follows a similar pattern to the original film but changes some of the key elements…so if you are unfamiliar with the film, what is the story??

 

Ana (Polley) plays a nurse who is just finishing a very long shift at a Milwaukee hospital. She returns home and has a night of passion with her husband Luis. The pair miss several emergency broadcasts, and are blissfully unaware that when their neighbour’s daughter wanders into their house the next morning, she is anything other than a human child. She is in fact a zombie. Luis is attacked by her, being bitten in the throat and quickly bleeds to death as Ana tried in vain to save him. Moments later he reanimates and violently attacks her, and she is forced to flee only just managing to escape.

 

A montage gives the audience an insight into what is happening which plays over the opening credits.

 

After a time, Ana meets Kenneth Hall (Rhames), and together they meet three others, Michael (Weber), petty criminal Andre (Phifer) and his pregnant Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). They make their way to a Shopping Mall where they are attacked by a zombie security guard that seems to just puncture Luda’s skin. After meeting the mall’s still alive guards, the three are able to take refuge in the secure shopping mall.

 

Later on other survivors arrive, and as the outbreak continues the group comes to the conclusion that if they remain in the mall they are just putting off death. Their only hope lies in getting away from the city and hopefully finding a way of going somewhere the zombies haven’t infested.

 

In the original film, one of the underlying themes was the idea that the zombies were not the most dangerous threat that the survivors faced. In the end it was a biker gang breaking into the mall and letting in the zombies that lead to the place being overrun. In the original version it seemed that other people were far more dangerous to the survivors than the hordes of zombies wandering outside. The remake instead focuses on the zombies as the main danger with the survivors trying to stay alive inside the mall.

 

In addition to the change in focus regarding the threats the survivors face, the zombies have also been changed. The zombies are no longer slow, stupid and easily outmatched by a human. Instead they are fast, aggressive and have more in common with the rage infected population from 28 Days Later (a film made in 2002). The problem with changing the zombies means that the established rules no longer apply. In a traditional zombie film, a person can kill a zombie relatively easily; even a group of the shambling dead are no match for a human with a cricket bat. The reason zombies are dangerous is because of their overwhelming numbers and the fact that they just keep coming. In the remake a human struggles to fight off a single zombie and if there is more than one then it is effectively game over with little to no chance for the survivor.

 

This version of Dawn of the Dead is a gore fest, people are seen to be ripped apart by the zombies, and one unfortunate survivor even gets very graphically cut in half by a flying chainsaw. This is a film that is aimed squarely at those with a strong stomach, Luda’s deterioration after being bitten, and the subsequent birth of her child is also not for the squeamish. In fact I know horror fans who will fast forward through this sequence because even they cannot take the extreme violence and shock value of the scene (watch it and you'll know exactly what I am talking about).

 

The cast are all good enough, and are obviously bewildered about what is happening but generally the film lacks the originality of the original - which is fairly obvious considering it is a remake. This in itself is generally my problem with remakes as they try to copy the original films but change enough to make it unique. In this case the film makers have gone for extreme gore and making the zombies more dangerous rather than concentrating on the dangers of humans in a society that has no rules or established law any longer.

 

On a side note, several members of the original film's cast make cameo appearences in this version so if you are familiar with the 1978 film then you should be able to spot them easily.

 

The zombies themselves don’t get much screen time and are generally seen outside the mall as a shambling mass of bodies only becoming fast and aggressive when they have a human in their sights. Amputees were used during production in order to show zombies that had arms or legs missing. Unfortunately, by pushing the boundaries and making the zombies faster and more aggressive, the film takes the audience away from their comfort zone. A single zombie is not supposed to be much of a threat; it is only on masse that zombies are dangerous.

 

I guess I have been dancing around this point so let's get right down to it, is this film better than the original??

 

No, I don't think so.

 

The original concentrated on survivors in a shopping mall, they dispatched the zombies inside and set up a safe haven for themselves. Things were going well until a biker gang smashed their way in and looted the place allowing the zombies to swarm in as well. In this version the survivors come to the conclusion that sitting around waiting to die is no life so decide to head across a zombie infested city in the hopes of making it to a boat, then sail off to an offshore island which hopefully the zombies have not overrun.

 

Isn't sitting around waiting to die what we all do every day anyway??

 

I am aware that is a pretty bleak view point but isn't meeting someone, getting married, having children, growing old and kicking the bucket kind of the point of a human's boring little life?? So what does it matter if you have that life in a shopping centre surrounded by zombies or on an island you can never leave?? Both are essentially prisions when you think about it. This maybe a bigger question and not one to be dicussed in a film review so I will not dwell on that point here.

 

I would by lying if I said I didn't enjoy the Dawn of the Dead remake, even its more stomach churning moments, if you can take the gore then it is worth a watch. So I am fine with giving it a Thumbs Up for general horror fans like myself who are happy to see film makers trying something a bit different, but honestly it would be a massive Thumbs Down to die-hard fans of the original

 

 

7/10 - I liked this version as it is an above average zombie horror but in my opinion it is not as good as the original, still, if you are not completely and utterly sick of the zombie saturated media then why not check it out.

 

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© Chris Sharman