Main cast: Sarah Polley (Ana), Ving Rhames (Kenneth), Jake Weber (Michael), Mekhi Phifer (Andre), Ty Burrell (Steve), Michael Kelly (CJ), Kevin Zegers (Terry), Michael Barry (Bart), Lindy Booth (Nicole), Jayne Eastwood (Norma), Boyd Banks (Tucker), and Inna Korobkina (Luda)
Director: Zack Snyder
I think I will be stoned for saying this but I have always found George A Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead silly beyond belief, more gory than scary, too heavy-handed in its self-important allegories, and a far departure from the genuinely good Night of the Living Dead that came before it. The latest remake is very different from Mr Romero’s original version, the only similarity being that the shopping mall is the main setting for both movies.
Ana is a nurse. She goes home one evening and have a romantic evening with her husband, missing the emergency news broadcast that night and hence getting caught off-guard when a zombie attacks them and kills Ana’s husband the next morning. Ana flees in panic, finding an ally in the cop Kenneth who brings her to a shopping mall. There, they catch up with an assortment of stereotypes – good girl, sexy girl, bad guy who turns helpful towards the end, tormented hero, pregnant woman, et cetera, oh, and don’t forget the dog. As the zombies begin gathering around the mall, our gang find themselves fighting for their lives.
I’m quite disappointed that some of my original annoyances at the 1978 movie are not addressed in this movie. For example, they are trapped in a shopping mall, so what do these people do? Play golf, have sex, watch adult movies, quarrel, bicker, smooch, hold a friendly shooting match with the guy trapped at the rooftop of the opposite building… but do they ever think of protecting themselves? No. They know that the zombie’s bite can infect them and turn them into zombies too. So do they raid the sports gear store and put on some protective suits? Or at least some thick, long-sleeved jacket? No, watch them as they in their short-sleeved or even sleeveless outfits dash into a crowd of hungry zombies.
There is a main event in this movie that triggers off a desperate escape from the mall, but the person that triggered this event is so unbelievably, unforgivably dumb that it only makes me furious that this person is not turned into zombie feed. Instead, other people get killed thanks to this imbecile, and for what? I don’t think even PETA can justify this imbecile’s polluting the human gene pool with her continuous existence. Although the montage after the credits (yes, please stay in the theaters until the very end – there’s an epilogue after the credits) suggests that there is hope for humanity after all, heh.
This movie is superior in some ways as well as inferior in other ways to the original movie. This movie has a bloated cast compared to the original, but only Sarah Polley’s Ana and Jake Weber’s Michael come off as human. Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer are wasted in underwritten roles while the other characters barely register as anything more than filler or fresh meat. Sarah Polley’s Ana resembles the heroine in Night of the Living Dead the closest in that she is a strong woman who has to be tough when the situation demands it. Michael is a very sympathetic man plagued with insecurities that rise to the occasion, just like Ana, and be strong. While Ana and Michael are more memorable characters, the bloated cast robs this movie of any sense of intimacy that are needed to make me care for the characters and hence be frightened for them when they encounter unspeakable horrors in this movie. Later into this movie, the gore level escalates but there is a perfunctory feel to this, as if the movie is just clinically removing the dead weight characters one by one.
There are also quite a number of scenes here that are designed to shock, but the scenes that affect me the most are the ones where the chills come from less calculated sources, such as the tentative camaraderie between Kenneth and the guy trapped on the roof of the opposite building. There seems to be no way that there can be any happy resolution to this friendship, especially when it seems impossible for Kenneth to rescue this guy with a road filled with zombies dividing them, but the denouement, when it happens, is more heartbreaking than I anticipated.
From a technical standpoint, this newer Dawn of the Dead is a far more gory movie, with today’s developments in computer-generated effects mean that this movie will be more gory and even nauseating in a seemingly more realistic manner. If a horror movie is to be judged strictly by the level of “realistic” gore, then yes, this one is a genuinely good horror movie. It is well-paced, well-acted, and filled with enough creepy and gory scenes to thrill fans of the genre.
But this movie lacks the intimacy of the original movie, an intimacy afforded by a small cast whose personalities are then fleshed out better, the better for me to invest my emotions in them and care for their safety. For the most part, the cast is largely nondescript, with me knowing and expecting them to die one by one to satisfy the body count quota of this movie. And when that happens, because I don’t care about most of them, I really can’t work up any emotion more than mild nausea at some of the more gory scenes. I can’t really say that I am scared. In that sense, Dawn of the Dead doesn’t particularly succeed with me. It is a good horror movie, but not a great one.