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Dawn of the Dead (2004) - 14/31 Days of Halloween

Today, we continue our look at the remakes of George A. Romero's classic Dead films. Today's selection is the film that possibly kicked off the zombie craze in 2004 that is still raging to this day (for better or worse). I give you Zack Snyder and James Gunn's Dawn of the Dead.

The film opens with a nurse named Ana who is at the end of a long shift, and we get some subtle hints that something strange might be happening with some of the patients in the hospital, but Ana takes no notice and heads home for a date night with her husband, Luis. The next morning, a neighbor child wanders into their bedroom, her face horribly mangled. Luis tends to the girl only to be bitten on the neck by the little girl. While Ana tries to get help, Luis dies and is immediately revived, savagely attacking Ana and forcing her to flee. Ana wrecks her car while trying to navigate the carnage breaking out around Milwaukee and is found by a police officer played by Ving Rhames (this is significant, and we'll come back to it in tomorrow's review). They meet up with other survivors and make their way to the local mall. After a brief power struggle with the security guards who have claimed the mall as their own, the survivors take up residence in the mall, spoiled by its comforts until resources begin to dwindle and they are forced to venture out of their sanctuary to seek out greener pastures, hopefully free of the ravenous undead.

So I have mixed feelings about this remake. On one hand, it's well-made and well-written, and Gunn did a good job of expanding the cast and convincingly capturing the paranoia and selfishness of the survivors. There are characters you'll hate, ones you'll love, and even those you'll love to hate. People are hardly rational at the best of times, and in times of disaster, all reason tends to go out the window with some people, and that's certainly the case in this movie. On the other hand, the zombies in this movie are just too quick, not just in their locomotion but also in their viral transmission and reanimation. The outbreak just spreads too goddamn fast. I understand that this remake had zero ties to any depiction of Night of the Living Dead and thus was forced to make up its backstory on the fly, but give me just a little setup, man! Jesus. There's no suspense, wondering if someone will turn, because in the blink of an eye, they're up and shrieking.

Now, I'm not one of those fans who is violently opposed to zombies that can run. In fact, my all-time favorite zombie film Return of the Living Dead invented the turbo-charged zombie. I do, however, feel that the undead should become slower and more sluggish as decomposition sets in. Zombies shouldn't be track stars anymore by week two, let's just be honest here.

While we're on the subject of the undead, let's tackle one of the boldest moves this film makes: The zombie baby. The idea of children being directly affected by a zombie outbreak is a particularly painful one, and Romero didn't shy away from it in NOTLD, but babies never really seemed to come up. The first mention of babies I ever remember seeing in zombie media was a piece of Resident Evil fan fiction I read in 2002, and that was unsettling enough. Remember how I mentioned all reason going out the window? Well, that happens in this film when Andre conceals that his wife, Luda, has been bitten. They isolate themselves in the mall, and Andre restrains Luda while she goes into labor, dying and reanimating in the process. Andre sees the "birth" through, and despite the condition of both the mother and baby, is determined to keep "his family" together... with deadly results.

So how does the movie hold up? Reasonably well. Romero's clever social commentary on consumerism is lost, replaced with a healthy dose of gallows humor and cynicism. With so many characters, the feeling of isolation felt by the trio in 1978's Dawn isn't felt as strongly, either. There aren't any real "character" zombies, which the original is known for. No Hare Krishna ghouls to be found here. The undead are largely unforgettable background characters. Eagle-eyed viewers will catch a few fun nods to the original. Overall, Snyder's Dawn is a decent post-apocalyptic horror flick with a few good scares, but it just can't go toe-to-toe with Romero's original masterpiece.

The Dawn has passed. Bring on the Day.

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