Film reviews

Dawn Of The Dead, Dir; Zack Snyder, Cert; 18

As a huge fan of all things horror, especially splatter and zombie films, I have long adored George A. Romero’s original ‘Trilogy of the Dead’. When I heard that first-time director Zack Snyder was remaking the second installment of Romero’s masterful trilogy, I was outraged. At the time it seemed that this remake was a cash-in on the success of the previous ‘zombie’ film, ‘28 Days Later’. I was expecting the usual Hollywood update but instead I found an above average action horror that, while not being the be all and end all, stands out as one of the better pieces of recent genre pictures. Expect liberal comparisons between the two versions.
 
What made the original so astounding was the caustic humour and sly social commentary- comparing shoppers to mindless zombies. Both versions are predominantly set in a shopping centre but only the original pokes fun at consumerism. What the remake lacks in satire, it makes up for in well executed action set pieces. This time around, the zombies are not the slow, mindless creatures of the original. They are intelligent, fast moving, numerous and extremely vicious. Much like the update of the monsters in Aliens from the original, slow moving Alien, the action is tenfold.
 
James Gunn’s adapted screenplay (based on Romero’s original) wastes no time in cutting to the chase. The opening sequence is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any film. We begin with Ana (Sarah Polley) returning home from her shift at the hospital, speaking to a girl on skates. As she skates away, the camera stays uncomfortably focused on her as if to bid her farewell. Something terrible is about to happen. The next morning she attacks Ana’s boyfriend. From here on, the entire opening sequence is a montage of amazing ideas. We are thrown headfirst into an apocalyptic landscape of paranoid, gun toting neighbours, zombies running amok killing and eating people at will, burning vehicles clogging up the streets, renegade ambulances driving frantically and buildings exploding randomly. Cue the dripping blood credits intercut with television footage of the unfolding zombie apocalypse cheekily played over the top of Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around’. This is the best opening sequence to a horror film I’ve ever seen. This is Fulci meets Fellini, updated for the go-go new millennium. While not as gripping as the first ten minutes, the bulk of the film has some very solid moments.

Having found herself thrown into a terrible situation, Ana escapes to a shopping centre along with a fairly large group of varied characters. Thanks to this large group we ultimately do not care emotionally about the minor bit parts. However we do care for the main characters; the tough cop Kenneth (a gravelly Ving Rhames), the decent, do good Michael (Jake Weber), the soon-to-be father Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his heavily pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina) and, of course, Ana. There are some touching moments between them; Ana breaking down to a whimpering wreck in the bathroom, Michael’s many addresses about trying to stick together, Andre coming across his wife looking at children’s clothing in an abandoned shop.
 
While not as biting as the original, there are plenty of comedic moments, many of them genuine laugh-out-loud instances involving violence. In particular the rooftop scene where our heroes take potshots with a sniper rifle at zombies who look like celebrities. One set-piece of violence which was shocking, scary and funny at the same time involves a rather obese zombie running at full pelt towards Ana, the outcome of which is both gruesomely dismal and hilariously entertaining – just like the majority of the whole film. This being a zombie film, there is a sufficient amount of blood and guts to satisfy fans, in particular a scene involving a chainsaw.
 
In the end, this updated Dawn of the Dead does indeed work. It contains more shock and scares than the original and it pays respect to it at the same time. Cameos from original cast members, Tom Savini, Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger will put the die-hard fans of Romero’s film in awe and the action and comedy will please most horror fans. My only complaint is the screenplay could have expanded more on the tension between characters and the shopping centre ends up being merely a useful location for the story. Romero’s original will always remain the satirical best. 8/10


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