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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

  Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: James Gunn, George A. Romero
Starring: Michael Kelly, Mekhi Phifer, Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber
Links: Dawn of the Dead on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video
Genre: Suspense/Horror/Thriller

This movie gets: 9.00 (2 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 14th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"A real surprise" - a review by andy-j

There's been a few zombie movies in recent years. Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), and now, Dawn of the Dead. It begins when Ana (Sarah Polley) goes to sleep one night next to her husband, and wakes up to a nightmare. A mysterious virus has spread like lightning overnight, and everyone affected becomes a zombie, whose only desire is to kill the uninfected and pass on the virus. The 'zombies' (let's call them zombies even though the movie makes a point of not doing this) are stupid - all they can do is run and shuffle. They don't have the ability to talk or to think for themselves, but they don't ever give up, are strong, fast and violent, and they don't need food or water to survive.

Before Ana knows what is going on, her family is wiped out, but she manages to escape. She meets up with several other survivors (including the fantastic Ving Rhames) and together they hole themselves up in a deserted shopping mall (surrounded by several hundred thousand zombies) to await help. Before long, however, they realise that the help will never come...

I was surprised to discover that Dawn of the Dead is absolutely fantastic. Looking at the preview, I remember thinking that it looked like some Paul W.S. Anderson fanboy based-on-a-computer-game trash, but it turned out to be exactly what I've always wanted from a zombie flick. Heaps of action, scary zombies, lots of gore in the right spots, a bit of humour, and an ever-present threat. One of the main reasons it succeeds is that it doesn't try to be too smart. Instead, it keeps things simple and straightforward. It doesn't try to explain the origins of this infection, or go into too much detail. This sort of thing might have annoyed me.. I could well have WANTED to know the how the infection came into existence, but a tightly focused storyline and plenty of action prevents the viewer from wanting such tangents explored. Additionally, Dawn of the Dead doesn't make the mistake of being too stupid either. It refuses to rely on stupid scares or frights. No big sudden shocks that are scary only because they are sudden; the intensity builds up slowly throughout the entire movie instead, which is much more effective and makes for a far more unsettling experience. The filmmakers really struck an excellent balance between painting a seemingly hopeless scenario for the survivors and giving the survivors some gusto -- just enough so that they might just survive. This kept my interest at peak levels throughout.

Another thing that really works unexpectedly well is the humour. There are some genuinely funny moments, such as the games that the survivors make up to pass the time, and the way some zombies are disposed of. The humour works well - it breaks up the action, adds to the enjoyment and variety of the film and also demonstrates that the filmmakers really didn't take Dawn of the Dead too seriously (a mistake the 28 Days Later crowd made). There is a little time spent developing the characters, and this provides a break from the tension at times. They're neither very well-developed nor complete strangers, and they are all believable. It's really all that is needed, as anything more would just get in the way.

I absolutely loved Dawn of the Dead. The action heats up in the final thirty minutes as things reach a whole new level of desperation and excitement. I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a film so much. Dawn of the Dead is fun, violent, full of adrenalin, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. Director Zack Snyder has managed to succeed in making something truly rare - not only a great action movie but a great horror movie. I have no idea what the original is like, so I can't give the inevitable comment on how much this sucks in comparison... Oh well...

andy-j gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 12 Aug 2004

"Lots and lots and lots of zombies" - a review by em_fiction

What's the first thing that comes into your head when you hear the expression "modern-day horror"? "Awful"? "Terrible"? What about "remake"? "Shithouse"? "Disgrace to the original"? What about "modern-day horror-classic remake"? "Travesty"? "Gus Van Sant ought to be shot"? Yeah, well guess what; Dawn of the Dead (2004) is exactly that: a modern-day remake of George A. Romero's horror classic, Dawn of the Dead (1978). But you know what? It was actually pretty good.

Dawn of the Dead, an updated version of the second instalment in George A. Romero's classic Dead trilogy, is basically about an epidemic that strikes the world, literally overnight (hence the title). In a small American town, the death toll grows so relentlessly that the town folk are almost entirely dead within a matter of days. Well, dead-ish. You see, when a human being is infected by this contagion, they die... and then wake up again, not as themselves of course, but as a mindless cannibalistic zombie, whose goal is one thing only: to bite, infect and create more zombies. Ah, what a wonderful cycle of life.

The story revolves around several survivors taking refuge at a local sealed-off shopping mall; of them, the key players being the heroine Ana (Sarah Polley), a young nurse whose boyfriend had been infected; Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a tough, no-nonsense cop; Michael (Jake Weber), a man who'd lost his wife and child in the disaster; Andre (Mekhi Phifer), a young, defensive man holding on tight to his pregnant wife, Luda (Inna Korobkina), and CJ (Michael Kelly), a wiseass mall security guard making it hard for everyone to get along.

I emphasise fairly clearly in my introduction that I was expecting absolute shite. Especially considering that this was made by some weirdo nameless first-time director named Zack Snyder. You might be thinking that I shouldn't always be so prejudiced towards these kind of films, but sorry, they pretty much always are shite. Well, obviously not now I guess, with Dawn of the Dead being fairly good and all, and proving to me that my preconceived judgments aren't always reliable, but still, I think I'm gonna sit on the idea that this is one very very rare case. Sorry, but after having watched Psycho (1998), you can hardly blame me for being this cynical.

Okay, reasons why Dawn of the Dead succeeded. Firstly, the casting of Sarah Polley. I don't care what film no matter how bad, I will still love Sarah Polley. She is just so cool. I guess you could say that her presence made it easier for me to like this film, because... well, she's just so damn cool. Enough said. Secondly, the casting of Ving "Marsellus Wallace" Rhames. Constantly in great films, Wallace being a particular favourite of mine (I'm sure I don't stand alone there). I'm not sure how to articulate it really — I guess, just like the way I saw Andy Dufresne in Tim Robbins when I watched Mystic River (2003), it was kind of the same with Wallace in Rhames (I know, judging actors by their other films is a very unorthodox way to judge, but that's how I enjoy my actors, so shut up).

Okay, I admit that a big chunk of my praise for this film did have a lot to do with the fact that I liked those two actors. A lot. But, this film still does have a lot of other redeeming qualities, especially when compared to all that other horror crap they're releasing these days. The first is the balance. Quite scary, but not overdramatic. Establishes a solid sense of humour, but not ridiculously lame humour (remember Jerry O'Connell's singing number in Scream 2 (1997)? I don't, nor do I want to). Paces well to build tension and suspense, and gets to the point without dragging on. And it is violent; in fact, extremely fucking violent, but it was pretty much all relevant to the plot, and the really really foul stuff was still kept in that place it's meant to be kept: off-screen.

The set design and make-up was also extremely well done. The amount of detail in the zombies was amazingly realistic, not that I know what a real zombie looks like, but if it looked anything like it did in the film, and I were to ever be unfortunate enough to be within a proximity of one, then I know for a fact that my pants would sure as hell be history. The cinematography was another thing worthy of credit. Snyder really proves to have control over his shots when bridging film techniques with story, particularly in the opening sequence where the shots are a lot more tranquil than usual. I guess that could only mean one thing: something's up. During the film, whenever the tension breaks into chaos, the use of angles, framerates, zooms and movement are done very skilfully, similar to what you'd see in a decent action film.

If you watch for the first time, keep in mind a shot towards the start of the film; as soon as Ana's boyfriend turns into a zombie, she promptly leaps into the bathroom, slams the door and lands in the bathtub on her back, all seen from a stationary bird's eye view shot within the bathroom. This shot, despite looking simple, was quite possible my favourite shot in the entire film. Yeah, call me a weirdo, but the camerawork, together with Polley's excellent physical acting abilities, on top of the fact that the havoc began so suddenly, just made that single one-second shot utterly awesome.

Okay, I've praised this film way too much, so on with the flaws. There actually weren't many flaws in this besides some bad scripting. I was fairly disappointed that this film still had a lot of the typical character-does-obvious-stupid-thing-and-gets-killed-or-almost-gets-killed. It might've had the odd hiccup here and there, but definitely nothing drastic. And of course, their survival plans, although satisfying the plot, were not ideal. My friend had more of a problem with this than I did, considering he came up with about fifteen different ways as to how he would've handled the situation (it mostly involved napalm). Apart from that, I thought it was a decent, enjoyable Friday night romp.

em_fiction gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 18 Jun 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 9.00
Lowest rating: 8 (by em_fiction)
Highest rating: 10 (by andy-j)
 
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