Dawn Of The Dead

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The ViewHamilton Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/03/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Impressively directed horror flick that delivers everything you could want from a zombie movie: shocks, lashings of gore, a witty, intelligent script, strong characters and some particularly gruesome set-pieces.

The recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved two things: to audiences and (some) critics, it demonstrated that remakes of successful horror films didn’t automatically suck, while to studio heads it proved that where there’s blood, guts and gore, there’s money, so which classic horror should they remake next?

High Quality Shlock Fun

By happy coincidence, then, it’s exactly 25 years since George A. Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead was first released, making it ripe for the remake, sorry, “re-imagining” treatment (as the press-notes would have us believe). Luckily, the film is an awful lot of schlocky fun, thanks to a witty script, a great cast and some impressively nasty set-pieces.

The film gets cracking more or less straight away: nurse Anna (Sarah Polley) gets off a 12 hour shift and comes home to her boyfriend. One nasty bite from the neighbour’s zombie kid later and her boyfriend is a fully paid-up member of the undead with a newly discovered taste for brains, so Anna jumps in her car and takes off, quickly discovering that zombies are everywhere, the result of some unidentified plague.

She soon hooks up with an eclectic group of ‘still alivers’ (including Ving Rhames’ cop, Jake Weber’s electronics salesman and Mekhi Phifer and his pregnant wife) and they hole themselves up in the local mall. However, as the zombies gather en masse outside their stronghold, they realise they can’t stay there forever…

Excellent Acting…And Plenty Of Screaming

The acting is excellent. Sarah Polley is best known for her work in serious dramas (The Claim) or downbeat indie pictures (My Life Without Me), so her presence here lends a certain dramatic weight to the film – she’s definitely no screaming blonde bimbo (though just for good measure, there’s one of those too).

In fact, the film reflects the progressive casting of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, as the two strongest male leads are both black actors: Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer. There’s also terrific support from Ty Burrell as a deeply sarcastic businessman who gets all the best lines, such as “They’re all dead. Well…dead-ish.”

The characters are both likeable and well-drawn and the excellent script by Scooby Doo writer James Gunn makes subtle digs at society while lacing the whole film with a vicious streak of dark humour, such as when the bored survivors play ‘Celebrity Lookalike Shooting’ off the roof of the mall or use the zombies for golfing target practice. The twisted humour is also evident in the superb soundtrack, which uses a series of ironic songs such as the Stereophonics’ ‘Have A Nice Day’ and tracks like ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, the latter two courtesy of the mall’s perky muzak system.

Excellent Debut Direction

Dawn of the Dead is the feature debut of commercials director Zack Snyder and he does an excellent job of maintaining tension while keeping the shock count high. He also throws in a couple of impressive shots, such as a tracking shot through a ruined, zombie-fied neighbourhood and an overhead shot of a nasty car crash. The zombie effects are excellent, too and there are several scenes which should keep gore fans happy and everyone else hiding behind their hands.

The zombies themselves are genuinely frightening (they’ve obviously learned that Running Zombies Are Scary from watching Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later) and a superbly creepy sequence involving Phifer’s pregnant wife delivers something that manages to be original, horrifying and darkly funny all at once. In addition, the end credits are guaranteed to keep you glued to your seat till the end – they’re incredibly inventive and are practically a mini-movie in themselves.

That said, the film isn’t exactly without flaws: there are a couple of very clumsy edits (presumably for pacing), which means characters suddenly move from place to place with no reasonable explanation of how they got there. It also criminally wastes Matt ‘Max Headroom’ Frewer, albeit in a very moving way.

In short, Dawn of the Dead is more fun than any classic horror remake has a right to be and delivers pretty much everything you want from a zombie flick. If only other films displayed the same amount of brains…

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Content updated: 21/03/2019 15:16

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