Arise the Dead: ‘Dawn of the Dead (2004)’ Retrospective
Original Film Poster
The Mall Is a Pretty Awesome Place to Hide During a Zombie Apocalypse
I was unable to see this in theaters so I saw it on DVD. I later found out that it was a remake of a film of the same name back in 1978, which was of course directed by George A. Romero. The remake is also called Dawn of the Dead, which came out in 2004 and was directed by Zach Snyder.
The plot follows a group of zombie outbreak survivors who take shelter in a mall. When resources begin to dwindle they must find a way out and escape to safer grounds.
The main protagonist is a nurse named Ana, played by Sarah Polley. During the titular dawn, she wakes up and looks around her neighborhood without a clue as to what’s happening. After her husband is killed by a zombie, she attempts to escape the fiery destruction and zombies around her. She runs into an officer, Kenneth Hall, played by Ving Rhames, who’s pretty much the gruff muscle.
On their way to a nearby mall, Ana and Kenneth run into three other survivors, jack-of-all-trades Michael, played by Jake Weber, street hooligan Andre, played by Mekhi Phifer, and his pregnant wife Luda, played by Inna Korobkina. All five make their way past the zombie horde and get to the mall.
The group meet the three mall security guards; C.J., played by Michael Kelly, Bart, played by Michael Barry, and Terry, played by Kevin Zegers. The three guards quickly apprehend the survivors out of fear that they may pilfer the mall during the time of crisis. The following day the survivors overthrow C.J. and Bart’s command and pretty much take charge of the mall, especially when a truck carrying another group of survivors approaches the mall.
The newcomers on the truck includes Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Steve (Ty Burrell), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid), Frank (Matt Frewer), and his teen daughter Nicole (Lindy Booth). There’s an obese woman with them too who soon turns into a zombie and is killed upon resurrection. Unfortunately Frank too was bit and quickly dies and rises as a zombie, though he’s immediately killed by Kenneth.
Another survivor is Andy, played by Bruce Bohne. He took shelter at his gun shop across the street from the mall. He communicates with the others by using a large whiteboard with marker. Andy quickly bonds with Kenneth, who he plays chess with by using the whiteboards.
While the film is a horror thriller that revolves around a zombie apocalypse, the main portion of the film focuses on the survivors and seeing them interact with one another. Ana and Michael are pretty much the brains of the group who make the major decisions. Over the course of the film they develop feelings for one another and start a relationship.
Terry, the one good security guard begins a relationship with Nicole, which helps her overcome losing her father. Andre is obsessed with looking after Luda, the problem is that Luda gets bitten by a zombie. Andre contemplates on what to do about his wife and unborn child. There’s an amazing scene between Andre and Kenneth early on in the mall bathroom where Andre reflects on all the bad things he’s done. Kenneth has some choice words to Andre on what he should do if he doesn’t make it out alive. Kenneth himself is concerned with finding his brother at one point, though he decides to stay with the other survivors.
Monica develops a friendship with Norma and develops a sexual relationship with Steve. Glen is actually gay but doesn’t reveal it. Frank is one of the friendliest survivors and willing to help the others.
Steve is just as bad as when the survivors first met C.J. He always looks at himself as better than the others and doesn’t help them with anything. The only thing he does is suggest that the others use his boat to escape the mainland. He does make several careless decisions that endangers the others.
Speaking of dislike, Nicole starts off as a character the audience sympathizes with, especially since she lost her father. She gains comfort in Terry and she later gets a dog named Chips. As for actually helping, she does virtually nothing. In fact, a bit of a spoiler, her actions after the halfway point puts the survivors in great danger which results in them being forced to evacuate the mall earlier than they intended.
While Steve may start bad and stays that way, C.J. is another case. He initially starts off antagonistic, though he counters by saying he treated the others negatively to prevent them from stealing from the mall. After some time he eventually realizes the error of his ways and assist the others. This comes in handy during the climax.
Personally I came to like the character Andy. In the film we learn that he’s the owner of the gun shop across the street and befriends Kenneth. While the film doesn’t really go into detail about who he is, a bonus featurette on the DVD release reveals more of his backstory. It also tells some of the film’s events through his perspective, which adds depth to what’s happening.
As for the zombies themselves, they are the classic Romero zombies who are revived corpses that feed on living flesh. They reproduce by biting or infecting a living person and can be killed by a shot to the head. Unlike the zombies from Night of the Living Dead, these zombies run towards their prey at quick speeds and are much more aggressive and violent. Like in Romero’s first zombie film, the origin of the zombie outbreak is never stated, though it’s somewhat hinted that it was a failed government experiment. They also appear in crowds and despite their relative ease to kill, the vast numbers of zombies makes getting rid of them all impossible, which is pointed out in Andy’s story.
The horror elements are fitting and thinned out through the film in effective portions. As the survivors spend their first night in the mall it’s clear that they’re uneasy as to not knowing what will happen next. In the scene, only the ‘Metropolis’ sign is lit, which further emphasizes the creepy atmosphere.
Bits of music play every now and then. Slow pieces for creepy effect and loud sharp pitches for when the survivors are facing the zombies. The opening credits begins with Johnny Cash’s When the Man Comes Around, which further adds to the suspenseful atmosphere. Halfway through the film the R-rated song Down with the Sickness by Richard Cheese is heard during the survivors’ slice-of-life moments.
Overall, the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead is an excellent zombie film. The dark creepy atmosphere gives it that classic horror feel, but the many slice-of-life moments with the survivors helps you bond with them. When bad things happen to the survivors you feel for them and understand the pains they are forced to endure. The action scenes during the climax are spectacular. The film is quite violent and rather sexual in certain parts so it’s not a family friendly film. Personally I recommend viewing it around evening to early night as it seems to have the best effect around that time. It’s a horrifying dark film for zombie lovers that’s bound to leave some feeling uneasy.
Original film trailer
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