Back to the Mall - "Dawn of the Dead" (2004) Review
These days, it’s easy to hate Zack Snyder. He is a kind of new Michael Bay, a specialist in dark blockbusters with many explosions and not-so-deep-scripts. He has been the most visible head in the failures of the DC Extended Universe.
But the truth is that his infamy has been unfair. His Watchmen adaptation is a great frame-by-frame tribute, with a better ending to Alan Moore’s legendary comic. In a few years, Sucker Punch will be revisited and its stark message about oppressive patriarchy will be vindicated. Of course, Sucker Punch will never become a classic.
Above all things, you cannot say that Snyder has no ambition. After all, one of his first projects was a remake of the best zombie film ever made.
Of course, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is matchless. But this Snyder version, written by the great James Gunn (finally globally recognized thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy) is not only a remake of the highest quality but one of the best movies of the genre in the 21st century.
Dawn of the Dead is the expected Hollywood response to the Danny Boyle’s masterpiece 28 Days Later. With the genre taking a second life, Richard Rubinstein—producer of the original Romero gem—knew how to take advantage of the moment, putting new cinema voices to reinterpret the classic film.
The setting, like the vast majority of the genre, is not exactly original. We see through the eyes of a nurse named Ana Clark (Sarah Polley) as we see how her daily life begins to be undone when a zombie outbreak begins to take control of the place.
After dramatically escaping an attack by her already converted husband and daughter, Ana meets police officer Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames), a TV salesman named Michael (Jake Weber), a pregnant woman named Luda (Inna Korobkina) and her partner, thief Andre (Mehki Phifer).
And like Romero’s original film, they all decide to barricade themselves in a shopping mall.
However, even with the plot similarities, the tone differences are remarkable. This new version doesn’t escape the social commentary of the human obsessive need to seek stability and routine, but the main focus is on the action and tension. The zombie threat is latent and it never ceases to be.
The direction of Snyder next to the intelligence in the script of Gunn makes this remake a fun time at the movies. It has a great musical selection that includes songs by Johnny Cash, Disturbed and Tree Adams. It also features good special effects and glamorous shots.
But what really elevates the film is the performance of a professional and very solid cast. There are no great dialogue gems, but the great chemistry between the characters make up for it.
Because with the zombies being really threatening, humans seem to be forced to trust the living more quickly.
When our protagonists arrive at the mall, they are reluctantly received by a trio of security guards led by CJ (Michael Kelly). CJ becomes a small dictator of this new and improvised community until he is quickly overthrown.
What's Your Rating For Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead?
But the refreshing thing about Dawn of the Dead is that, although it's full of really horrendous moments (newborn zombie anyone?), there is a growing sense that human beings do want to connect with each other. It feels like we can work as a team and tolerate our differences.
Few films of the genre have this kind of approach about humans. Just remember the powerful image of two new friends on different rooftops playing remote chess while an ocean of violent zombies separates them. Uplifting.
Even with a couple of real douchebags, the humans in Dawn of the Dead end up being very loyal. CJ and the guards not only end up being forgiven after a brief stint in an improvised jail but end up becoming important pieces of the group’s survival. Unlike Romero, Snyder and Gunn redeem the power-hungry violent paranoid character, giving him the opportunity to grow.
That’s why, even considering its context, its pessimistic ending, done in found footage-style, feels disappointing and out of tune. Maybe that was exactly the intention of Gunn and Snyder. Maybe what they wanted was to establish a cliffhanger that would translate into a sequel.
Whatever it was, we were left without a sequel and without hope. But the genre is so noble and flexible that it still felt like a cinematic triumph.
Zombie Movie Details
Title: Dawn of the Dead
Release Year: 2004
Director(s): Zack Snyder
Writer(s): James Gunn (original script Romero)
Actors: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, a.o.
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
© 2019 Sam Shepards