Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Zach Snyder

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Zach Snyder’s take on Romero’s 1978 classic is really everything you look for in a movie remake. I know a lot of purists will say you can’t improve on the original, but this movie really delivers. It takes everything you love from the original and pumps it full of lots of badass special effects, great sound effects, and buckets of blood, brains, and guts to everything you could want it to be. It’s actually got a good story and it does a good job handling the way people react to having to shoot their friends and loved ones in the face. It makes you care about the characters too, and root for them. And if you pay close attention, the movie begins and ends at dawn. Pretty cool.

The thing about this movie, is that it’s not really a scary movie. It’s an action movie with zombies. If you think of zombies as the mindless, drones from the original or from Night of the Living Dead, then buckle up. These fuckers are fast, agile, and aggressive. As soon as they spot you, it’s all-out sprint, bloody teeth bared and fingers outstretched. I’m a big fan the modern take on zombies-fast and nasty. The classics used overwhelming hordes to corner and catch victims. Today’s zombie-on-the-go doesn’t have time for that kind of thing. I blame the cell phones these kids are using all the time. Nobody has time to wait around for a zombie anymore. But I’m getting off-topic. I like the fast zombies, they’re more exciting.  This is not to say that film doesn’t have its moments of horror. There are lots of suspenseful scenes and shocks, but  they’re fleeting. The horror really comes from the grotesqueness of what’s on the screen.

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So on to the plot. We start out following a nurse (Ana), as she ends a long shift at the hospital, where we overhear the doctor discussing some strange zombielike symptoms. She goes home to her too-perfect husband and within a few minutes, he’s a zombie, everyone is covered in blood and the apocalypse seems very close at hand. Then we have an awesome opening credits montage with a chilling Johnny Cash song and some video of zombie attacks around the world. Anyway, Ana finds a few survivors and they decide to hold up in the local mall. Because why wouldn’t you? Well it turns out that a group of mall security cops is already hiding there, the ringleader of which thinks he’s Clint Eastwood or Paul Blart and he’s a huge dick to everyone.

And then you start to do that horror movie math in your head and you’re like “There’s not enough characters here to rack up a good head-count.” But don’t fret, a truckload (literally) of fresh meat shows up just in time to fill up a few body bags. By now the mall is surrounded by thousands of dripping, dismembered corpses and everyone decides it’s not safe to stick around. Fortunately, one of the survivors has a boat at the Marina down the road and he happens to have the keys on him. Isn’t this just perfect? Oh and also there’s a gun shop across the street. So remember, kids, Just because the world is ending and there are body parts and brains flying all around you doesn’t mean you’re unlucky. So as their number slowly drops, then gets back up again, then gets shot in the face, then drops again, our little squad of survivors hatches a plan to escape and get to the boat and sail to safety. Needless to say, there are some complications with that plan.

Anyway, the point is that the story is just what it needs to be. Let’s be honest, the goal of movies like this is to rack up a serious body-count and to spray as much blood across the screen as you can. And Snyder hits it out of the park with this one. All while actually telling a good, albeit simple, story. The characters are well-developed and we care what happens to them. The movie does a great job of treading the line between believability and absurdity, bringing just enough human emotion to make it relatable to viewers while still being a movie about dead people getting up and eating each other. There are some scenes where you really feel for these characters. The girl who’s father has been bitten and knows he’s soon going to die and come back as a zombie. The guy who gets bitten and yells “SHOOT ME!” to his friend because he doesn’t want to come back as one of those things. It does get pretty heavy. But then Snyder brings you back out with some well-placed comic relief or a fresh onslaught of zombies and the resulting gunfight to make you feel better.

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This film combines the best elements of the original and brings them into the 20th century with a big budget and a great script and (for the most part) a great cast. Oh yeah, Ving Rhames is the second lead and he’s the fucking man as usual. There are a couple of cameos of actors/characters from the original as well as some lines of dialog too. Now I know lots of people analyze zombie movies and say that they are some kind of social commentary on how our modern culture, or lack thereof, has left us as angry, destructive, brainless monsters. And don’t think the fact that these people went to the mall escapes this lens of social scrutiny, but that’s not what this review is about.

The movie is awesome. I’d put it up against the best zombie movies out there and I think it stands up as one of the very best, even against the original. I know, I just lost a lot of fans, but you can’t just hold on to a movie because it is the original and then discount everything that comes after it.

Ok, down to business.

  1. Is it scary: 5- Though its got some shocks and some suspense, it’s not the scariest of all time in a traditional sense.
  2. Originality: 6- Well, its a remake so it’s hard to get a lot of point here, but I think it gives the genre a boost of adrenaline and redefines it in a way.
  3. Blood: 10- This movie is drenched in blood, brains and guts. Its fucking disgusting in the best possible way.
  4. Believability: 8- Other than a few larger plot holes, that are pretty necessary for the sake of the genre, its actually pretty authentic, especially in the way that the characters handle the situations.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7- It’s was fast, intense and it was shot in a way that you could see what was going on. There were some great tight shots that not only showed you all the gore you can handle, but then they were used to keep you guessing whats around the corner. The setting wasn’t particularly scary, but it served its purpose.

Final Score: 36/50

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