Dawn Of The Dead 2004 - A rare gem in a barrel of remakes.
PLOT - A young nurse awakes one morning to witness her next door neighbor violently attack and kill her husband. Moments after, her father appears to come back to life and goes after her, nearly killing her before she's able to jump into her car and escape. As she speeds away she watches as her neighborhood is in complete chaos as people are attacking each other. Trying to flee the city, she gets into an accident, where she stumbles upon a police officer, a young couple, and a salesman who decide to seek refuge at a local shopping mall as thousands of the undead, caused by a virus close in, fast moving, and blood thirsty.
LOWDOWN - I was brought up right. I downright adored the George A. Romero zombie films growing up. (Night Of The Living Dead, Creepshow, Day Of The Dead...and yes Dawn Of The Dead.) One of my all time favorite zombie movies was the splashy colorful comic book like sequel to the black and white cult classic Night Of The Living Dead. This was a movie I don't exactly remember watching for the first time, but falling completely in love with it, buying it on VHS and watching countless times. I'll admit, I've never been a huge fan of the original Night Of The Living Dead. (Gasp, I know) I actually prefer the 1990 remake instead. I always LOVED Day Of The Dead for countless reasons, but Dawn always struck me as my all time favorite. I feel it's for three main reasons. The setting of the shopping mall, the catchy 1970's theme, and the likable characters. Peter, Flyboy, Fran, and Rodger felt like family to me. I loved watching them all work as a team, making sure this mall was safe so they could live in it. The movie is iconic and a classic for sure. I do know back in 2003 or so I legit felt so frustrated when I first heard about it being remade. Remakes were really just starting to get cranked out, and hearing this movie was getting the remake treatment I couldn't understand why? I guess I didn't think of the 1990 remake to Night and how well that worked out. Instead I threw a little hissy fit, and didn't want to give it a chance. The worst was hearing about how suddenly the famous slow moving zombies that had stumbled around for most of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's were now going to be running. Yep, fast moving zombies like in Return Of The Living Dead. After watching the mess otherwise known as Land Of The Dead, I had a feeling it was time to pass the torch. I still to this day feel that George should have made Dusk Of The Dead instead. Still, I couldn't help but feel sour over one of my all time favorite movies being remade. I instantly dismissed this as a horrible idea.
Boy was I wrong.
In my freshmen year of high school Dawn Of The Dead was released by newcomer Zach Snyder. I still remember how blown away I felt sitting in the audience. The second Johnny Cash's music floated over the opening credits I knew I was in store for a treat. I still can't believe that this movie is thirteen years old. Boy...I feel like a fucking dinosaur when I say that. Zach Snyder was the right man for the job since he wasn't trying to completely remake the 70's classic, he made his own version of Dawn. In my eyes it's the action version of the original film. Instead of being a shot by shot remake like the awful Psycho, or the very amazing Night Of The Living Dead version, this took the basic story and transformed it into a new re-telling. We got a bunch of characters who take shelter in a shopping mall, there are zombies, and in the end they need to escape.
In this one we have the beautiful Ana played by Sarah Polley (Still blows my mind this is the little girl from the very first episode of Friday the 13th the series!). Looking much like our Fran from the original movie she isn't some helpless victim. Instead of playing the pregnant girlfriend who finally finds her own voice, she plays a strong willed nurse who has the ability to survive, as well as to fight back. We get strong background with this character, showing her everyday life as a nurse, coming home to her husband, having vanilla straight laced shower sex, and having the movie switch into high gear the moment she opens her eyes. Sure there's some digital effects that are border-line about to look dated, but for the most part all of the CGI was perfectly blended with some great practical effects. The choice of showing fast moving zombies as a high risk move, but for this sort of movie it was the right choice. I don't look at these creatures as zombies, but more as infected people who come back due to this virus. Very 28 days later if you may. This makes the movie ten times scarier with these things moving at full speed. There's little to no chance of being able to escape or survive. We watch as Ana stumble upon Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction and Con Air) who pretty much takes over the Peter role. African Americans have always played a strong role in George A. Romero's films, and this is the same case with movie. Kenneth is the strong silent type that ends up being a huge help and aid to the other survivors. I still all these years later quote his "Fuck ya'll" line and die every time I hear it.
They come upon three other survivors. Michael the salesmen played by Jake Weber (Medium) Michael ends up really coming out as the every day Joe who actually is both the heart and the brains of the team. He slowly knows how to handle the security officers, making them feel as if they came up with the plan on what to do next, and kinda seems the most like a real person. He briefly states how he's worked countless 9-5 jobs including selling televisions at Best Buy (My sister and I still joke about that...sorry inside joke.) and how he's a divorced man who actually lost children of his own when the attacks happened. A tragic background for a nice character who we root for right until the heartbreaking end. This is what makes this movie not fell into the same line as other remakes. They had characters you actually cared about. Whenever Michael shows his bite, after risking his life and has to stay behind gets me every time. A very powerful image of him staying on the dock watching Ana before pointing the gun under his chin. I feel Michael was the Rick Grimes before there was Rick Grimes. In fact I think Jake would have done wonderful in The Walking Dead. In fact, I still remember in 2010 when I was living at school that this movie played right before the very first episode of The Walking Dead aired. Fitting.
They also meet small time thief Andre played by Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile and ER) and his Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina) Here they head to Crossroads Mall. The one thing I didn't like about this movie was how fast paced things were. I understand the faster the movie goes the more action we get but I loved the original because of how realistic it felt. In the first movie we watched these characters carefully plan out how to clear out the zombies, clean up, block the doors with the trucks, build false walls, secure everything, ect. Instead, in this movie the mall is instantly secure by one simple line "Shatterproof asshole." = Biggest eye roll in the history of eye rolls.
Still, we meet security guards who pose as a threat themselves two of which are played by Michael Kelly (House Of Cards) and Terry played by Kevin Zegers (Frozen) once the characters have taken over the mall and welcome in several other survivors (always felt there was way too many people in that mall, but enjoyed Ty Burrell's character) they begin settling in thanks to a montage with the catchy song Down With The Sickness playing. I feel sure a little more character development could have been good here, but we watch as these people becomes comfortable by having all these things right at their fingertips including TVs, clothes, coffee (Hollowed Grounds, aka Starbucks) and show how driven everyone really is by material things, being much like zombies themselves.) We get cameos by some of the original cast members Scott H Reiniger, Tom Savini, and Ken Foree. We get little nods to the original as well as some famous lines being repeated, as well as a store being named after the original actress who played Fran, as well as seeing Flyboy's chopper. These little nods were Easter Eggs for hardcore fans like myself and I loved seeing them.
We also get some pretty memorable moments. Zombies like the giant woman running through the store only to be killed by a fireplace poker, legless and armless zombies, Andy who's across the street communicating with the gang via a white bored while playing Hollywood Squares with them killing movie star lookalike zombies, and of course the zombie pregnancy storyline. Ever wonder what would happen if a pregnant woman was bitten? Guess what? We get the answer. ZOMBIE BABY!
The movie goes yet again into high gear when a rescue mission goes wrong (Lindy Booth was so annoying with that stupid dog.) so the gang decides to leave the mall and use shuttle buses to escape into the sea of zombies in the parking-lot to head to the coast where they plan on going to a boat and finding an island. Um, okay. Well of course things don't go as planned, and after lots of shooting, explosions, and deaths, they make it to the boats only to have to leave Michael behind. = Cue to crying my eyes out and getting on board. At the end we see via a camera the rest of the survivors on the boat as it runs out of gas and supplies. (Hum, maybe leaving the mall wasn't the best idea...) and boom...they find an island only to have it become overrun by zombies. = Shitty. Here the epic cover from Disturbed of Down With The Sickness plays.
Talk about an ending!
The only other remake from the early to mid 2000's that even matched how enjoyable this film was had to be the Hills Have Eyes one. Besides that so many remakes that followed just didn't seem to have any effort left in them. Well, besides the 2009 My Bloody Valentine one. This movie was colorful, flashy, violent, gory, and tons of run. I saw this countless times when it was playing, and a favorite of mine to still watch. In fact I remember in high school having a poster of this movie hanging in my bedroom. In college I played a drinking game to this which it's only rule was...drink everyone a gun is fired. Bye liver!
This movie had strong points all over, and I remembered all the reasons why I loved it when I rematched it last weekend. A total blast for sure, and another reminder on why I'm still waiting or a true remake to be done for Day.