johnlink ranks DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

When this was in the process of being released this seemed like an unnecessary remake of a cult horror film. This was the directing debut of an unknown music video director named Zack Snyder. Could it possibly hope to be any good?


I watched DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) on 10.29.13. It was my third viewing of the film, and first in six years.

In terms of pacing, this is an odd bit of a movie. The action starts almost immediately. Exposition is put on hold, save for the introduction of our heroine Ana (Sarah Polley). The sudden zombie massacre in progress invades her home suddenly, and she is on the run. She meets a cop named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a man who doesn’t want any attachments as he seeks his brother. She then meets a trio of other normal folks and they all escape into the local mall.

The symbolism obvious in the original 1978 film is here as well. The mall serves as a symbol of American consumerism. We end up there whether we want to or not, we become enslaved by its walls, yet it doesn’t provide all we need to survive a crisis. The zombies wander there mindlessly, forming a mass of monstrous humanoids with no food and no purpose. It would seem they would survive better spreading out, but they are unable to escape the magnetism of the American Shopping Mall.

The impact of this movie and others of its ilk have softened the original era of Romero films. Likewise, the modern sprawling story telling of The Walking Dead is able to do more for the genre than DAWN OF THE DEAD can in 110 minutes. Despite that truth, DAWN OF THE DEAD does an awful lot with what it has. This is a solid horror movie. The gore is often more random than we might think. Zombies kill, to be sure, but humans kill each other on purpose or by accident. The body count from the living (be it by ambulance,  gun shot, or chainsaw) seem to come close to the body count created by the dead.

There is substance to this movie, coming from a director who sometimes prefers to deal preliminary in style. DAWN OF THE DEAD has meat on its decaying bones. Questions o n the definition of humanity are weighed against questions of morality and decency. Do we kill the father who has been bitten before or after he has turned? What is the decent thing to do? There is, of course, no right answer. Do we allow our wife to turn into a zombie in the hopes of her still being able to bear a normal child? If we do, it will break us. Clinging to hope becomes nihilism.

This is not a relentless movie in that it is carefully considered. The aforementioned exposition is saved until we know who is going to be with us for awhile (no sense in developing characters about to die, after all). Once the growing group of mall dwellers is established we get to know them around a dinner table and in their ability to work together or not. A character who seems villainous becomes heroic, even if the impetuous seems to have been born out of reading a trashy magazine. The person who refuses to help others finds themselves helpless. The woman who helps others is forced to perform the hardest zombie kill.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means. The host of human characters means some of them are stock. There’s the chick who says nothing but is there to have an excuse to give us a nude scene. The dickish guy is nothing but a dickish guy. The zombies seem to be able to do superhuman things at the right time, and to be entirely inept at other times. Snyder is a little heavy on the color filters at unnecessary moments. Sometimes the editing cheats too much. A shot with the zombies close gets betrayed by a follow-up shot with them further away. The point is to add tension but, unfortunately, the result is that we are reminded that this is merely a movie at a moment which should offer the highest level of horror.

But, really, this is a good movie. This is an extremely capable remake which I (sacrilegiously) prefer to the original. Snyder isn’t always my favorite director, but this is absolutely one of his wins.



This has an awesome, awesome soundtrack. Johnny Cash and Richard Cheese are enough to secure the point on there own.



~ by johnlink00 on October 30, 2013.

One Response to “johnlink ranks DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)”

  1. I never saw it, although I haven’t seen the original either. Never saw this on the general stance of “remakes are unnecessary.”

    But you have at least taken it from the never going to see it to the maybe someday list. So. Thanks. 🙂

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