Dawn of the Dead (2004)

08/30/2015 07:52

Film: Dawn of the Dead

Year: 2004

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: James Gunn

Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer



This film I will admit, I got caught in the hype learning that this was going to be made. The original was a staple of my childhood and still one of my favorite films of all time. I’m pretty sure I saw this movie in the theater when it came out, probably more than once. It was an immediate buy and I’ve seen this one quite a few times. The older I’ve gotten though, I’ve slowed down and it has been a few years. I did give this a rewatch as part of the Summer Challenge Series over on the Podcast Under the Stairs for the 2000’s. The synopsis here is a nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.

We start this in a hospital where a doctor is looking at a CT scan of someone’s head. The nurse with him is Ana (Sarah Polley). The doctor asks her why this scan was done when he was admitted for a bite. She goes to the front desk to find where the patient is and we learn that he is in the ICU now.

She heads home where she speaks with the little girl that lives next door, Vivian (Hannah Lochner). She promises to go skating with this girl around the block after work this weekend. Ana then goes inside for date night with her husband of Luis (Louis Ferreira). They end up making love in the shower.

The next morning they are woke up by Vivian. She is missing her lips and is covered in blood. Luis goes to check on her and she bites his neck. She is knocked out of the room and they close the door. He is losing a lot of blood. He dies on the bed while Ana tries to call an ambulance. The line is busy though, which doesn’t make sense. He immediately turns into a zombie, chasing his wife into the bathroom. While he is breaking in, she escapes through the window. We see outside that everything is chaos and everyone is scared. Ana drives away.

This cold open ends with her crashing over an embankment and over the credits we get to see a bit more of the scope. This is worldwide and no one is really sure what is causing it. The dead though are returning to life to eat the flesh of the living.

When she comes to, she escapes her car and meets a police officer named Kenneth (Ving Rhames). He’s heading for a nearby military base where his brother is stationed. They encounter another group of Michael (Jake Weber), Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant girlfriend of Luda (Inna Korobkina). It is disheartening for Kenneth to learn they can’t get over the road, as it is thick with zombies. They’ve lost most of their group in an attempt.

The group together decides to head to the nearby mall. They have to break-in, but find it relatively clear of the undead. They are locked up when they run into the security crew there. This group is led by CJ (Michael Kelly), Terry (Kevin Zegers) and Bart (Michael Barry). The guards don’t really like the idea of sharing their place with these new people and they lock them up. When another group drives up in a panel truck, decisions are made and those in charge are now held prisoners.

They soon learn that bites because you to become one of these things. The numbers swell with Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Glen (R.D. Reid), Monica (Kim Poirier), Frank (Matt Frewer) and Steve (Ty Burrell) hold up here. They create some sort of normal life there, but the longer they stay, the more zombies congregate outside and making it that much more difficult to leave.

That recap went a little bit longer than I wanted, but that really sets the stage for the movie. I’ve already given my history with the movie and I’ll admit, there was a stretch there where naïve, younger me thought this could be better than the original. In my defense, I was a 17 year old kid when it came out and I was high on this movie.

Now that I’ve settled in with some life experiences and appreciate cinema more, I’ve come down on this movie quite a bit. Getting into podcasts really helped me to see what others thought as well. Having now watched this for the first time in awhile with a critical eye, this does do some really good stuff.

This version takes out a lot of the social commentary that the original had and makes it a popcorn film. That’s not meant to be a slight though. This movie is still fun to watch in my eyes. Even though it runs 101 minutes it really does just fly by. What I really like to go with that, they incorporate elements from the original, while doing their own thing and not making it a shot for shot remake. That’s not to say we don’t get some social commentary here still.

I like we a strong woman character as our lead in Ana. She is a nurse, so it makes her important and she is trying to hold on to humanity for the society they’re living in. On the flipside there is Kenneth. He is a black cop who only cares about himself. He is quite similar to CJ, but being that he was already in the mall, they fall on opposite sides. I like that they’re both tough, but crack to join the cause. Michael is a character that couldn’t find a place until being here. Andre seems like a criminal, or at least that’s what Kenneth thinks. It does feel a bit racist though. Then there is Steve. He’s rich; he’s a jerk and does nothing to help. He is reaping all of the benefits, so we are getting to see classism play out on a small scale. It is a good job to have all of these different characters from all different walks of life for sure.

Something I do need to address in this movie is the zombies. They’re fast moving, running zombies which I’m not the biggest fan of. I know some people are and I get the appeal. They can run after you and kill you, making even one of them dangerous, especially since it is only a blow to the head that will stop them. It is even more terrifying here to see the mass numbers of that many, dangerous creatures. The problem though is that they’re decaying people. They shouldn’t be able to run. It loses some realism in that fact for me. I still like the tension that comes from these ones, but I prefer the slow-moving, more traditional zombies.

Since I’m talking about the creatures, I’ll go next to the effects. I think that all of the practical effects are good here. The make up of the zombies is good. I like what they do with the headshots and the blood that comes from it. Back in the day I watched the featurette on the DVD for it which I found interesting. They do well with having a bit of hair and scalp move at times to help as well. The CGI really doesn’t hold up for me. It isn’t as much as you’d expect from a Zack Snyder film, but it is still there. Plus there is just an odd filter everything is through that I’ve come to notice with him as well. I think some of this comes from his use of green screen if I remember correctly.

To take this next to the acting, which I think is really good. Polley is solid as our lead. I used to have a bit of a crush on her, but that really isn’t there anymore. She doesn’t add a lot to her character. She does fit just fine. Rhames is good as that brooding, imposing guy with an attitude for sure. I like Weber. Phifer is fine. Burrell cracks me up in his role as this rich jerk. I also really like Kelly. Aside from that, Zegers, Barry, Booth, Banks and Frewer are all fine in my opinion.

The last thing to go over would be the soundtrack. The normal selections for the movie I thought fit well. They help to accent the scenes. What I really wanted to talk about though are some of the other songs. There is the Johnny Cash song of ‘When the Man Comes Around’, Richard Cheese doing ‘Down with the Sickness’, Disturbed’s version over the credits and some other sprinkled in there. I really like all of these and it makes me think of this movie for most of them.

So now with that said, this is one that I was really high on at first and have cooled quite a bit on it. There was a stretch where I even thought I might start to hate it. That isn’t the case though. This is a good movie in my opinion. It takes the hurt of the original and does its own spin on it. Not everything works for me, but I do think the acting is good on the whole. The practical effects are as well and the soundtrack really works for me. Some of the CGI doesn’t and I’m not the biggest fan of the running zombies if I’m honest. Regardless, it is a fun popcorn take on a classic story.


My Rating: 8 out of 10