Dawn of the Dead review – remake has bite

As far as zombie movies go, it doesn’t get much better than the remake of Dawn of the Dead — one of the genre’s best pure zombie-fest films featuring regular folks against an army of the undead.

Fans of the 1978 original shouldn’t have any complaints, as this is one remake that doesn’t ruin the good name of its predecessor.

Dawn-of-the-dead-2004-zombies movingRemaining faithful to the original plot, James Gunn’s script has the residents of a small suburb finding refuge from a zombie outbreak in a mega shopping mall.

Director Zack Snyder’s opening zombie rampage scene is jarring in its carnage. Snyder’s zombies aren’t the rabid sprinters seen in 28 Days Later and are the more traditional lurching and moaning variety that clutch, claw and bite at anything in close proximity. Still, he’s able to work in some seat-jumping thrills by keeping the camera tight on the uninfected until the last possible moment.

dawn-of-the-dead- 2004 remake main castThe initial band of survivors is the kind of hodgepodge collection ideal for a video game. Ana (a very likable Sarah Polley) the nurse; Kenneth (Ving Rhames at his no-nonsense best) the police officer; Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and Luda (Inna Korobkina) the couple days away from the birth of their first child, and Michael (Jake Weber), a salesman who becomes the de facto leader.

They quickly learn the undead isn’t all they have to be worried about as the mall’s security force, led by the overbearing CJ (an excellent Michael Kelly, Man of Steel) aren’t thrilled with having to share their sanctuary.

dawn-of-the-dead-2004-ty-burrellThe situation gets tenser with the arrival of a new group of refugees, including an arrogant businessman (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell playing the sarcastic tool perfectly) and a young girl (Lindy Booth, Kick-Ass 2) struggling to cope with the loss of her family.

While movement is the key to survival in most zombie films, the opposite is the case here and it leads to a very different experience.

Dawn of the Dead 2004 Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames and zombiesThe film is packed with some unexpected funny moments like the celebrity shoot-out, the food court buffet and all the random things you could get into with free run of a shopping mall — until the supplies start running out and they once again have to contend with the zombie swarms gathering outside.

DOD marks Snyder’s directorial debut, but he confidentially handles every aspect of the film — from the tense standoffs, the lighter comedic moments and the frantic action scenes — as if he’d been doing this for years.

Gunn has a lot of fun keeping the film unpredictable with a few “don’t go in there!” moments and lowering the body count just enough to let you know anyone is fair game. The characters are well-developed, the action’s fantastic, the zombies a menacing threat and the movie overall is just so much fun that I can’t think of something to gripe about.

If you want to a see a basic man against zombie movie that doesn’t have a super-powered protagonist or makes some witty commentary on society, you won’t do better than this take on Dawn of the Dead.

Rating: 10 out of 10Dawn of the Dead 2004 Jake Weber, Sarah Polley, Mekhi Pfifer

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