The new "Dawn of the Dead" is a feverishly paced nightmare - a roller coaster
ride of bloodcurling thrills and chills. Who would have thought that a zombie
movie could be a roller coaster ride? This remake of the 1978 George Romero
film is not better, just sharper, faster and, at times, scarier.
Immediately, in the film's pre-credit sequence, we are lured into a nightmare
before we can say boo. Sarah Polley plays a nurse who hates to work overtime.
She comes home to her beau, and all seems well after a long day at work. They
make love in the shower and ignore the news warnings on television (amazing how
many people leave their TV's without ever truly watching them). They should
have listened! People are running in the streets! Hysteria! Cars crashing into
each other! Explosions in the distance! And what is all this, a new form of
terrorism? Nope, people are turning into zombies, infected by bites from other
zombies! More hysteria, especially when a young girl from the neighborhood
bites the nurse's beau! Oh, my, what do we do now? What is especially
frightening about this sequence is that it establishes an apocalypse brought on
by an uncontrollable virus - it is nicely exemplified in an aerial shot where
we see suburbia becoming a haven of chaos within minutes.
The nurse takes off in her car, runs into a barricade, is found by a cop (Ving
Rhames), finds other survivors who are not zombies, and head to the local mall.
There they find a triad of mall security cops who want nothing to do with these
survivors. But there is no time for macho bull as these zombies begin to
proliferate. And they do not walk slowly or fall onto each other - they run
like maniacs, eager for fresh flesh. Yes, a bit that may have been cribbed from
the imaginative, forceful "28 Days Later," but this movie is even scarier.
There is no respite from the madness of these flesh eaters - they devour and
shake and twist, but you can't keep a good zombie down for long. As more
survivors enter the Mall of Refuge, they also forget the zombies as well. They
get on the roof and shoot any that look like celebrities, as well as another
expert marksman staying above the roof of a gun shop. Will they ever escape? Is
there any refuge on any island nearby?
"Dawn of the Dead" is pure, unmitigated horror, relentless and intense beyond
belief. I swear that you will be clinging and crouching in your seats, waiting
to see what new horror awaits these survivors. We see silhouetted garages, dank
gun stores, brightly lit mall hallways, sprinklers, fences, trucks, chainsaws,
and lots of guns - a necessity since a zombie can only be killed by a direct
gunshot to the head. And for gore fans, there is some involving a pregnant
woman strapped to a bed that may make you squirm worse than anything in "The
Exorcist." There are also countless zombies mowed down and run over so often
that it becomes numbing yet never flags attention (unlike the recent,
thrill-less remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre").
First-time director Zack Snyder sets this Romero tale on overdrive, never
stooping for such intricacies as character development or the consumerist
satire of the original. But I am not too let down by this because the original
"Dawn" is still a classic and it has its own feverish excitement - the mall
setting of that film opened up the story for some black humor. There is not
much humor in the new "Dawn" but the characters, with certain exceptions, draw
us into the chaos and we hope they survive their ordeal. Ultimately, it is
Sarah Polley, the intelligent actress from Atom Egoyan country, who rescues the
film with authority, toughness and a sincerity that makes all the other
characters seem like automatons by comparison (the actress is a Socialist,
after all). Ving Rhames and Mekhi Phifer have great presence and share a
terrific scene in the lavatory, discussing the hell they are confronting. And
the guy at the gun shop leaves us also hoping he gets out alive (in a touching
moment, he communicates his hunger by writing on a white board).
"Dawn of the Dead" is one of the best horror remakes ever made. It is one
solidly hellbent ride, riding on full-throttle and delivering a pure adrenaline
rush. And its apocalyptic urgency and sense of dread will leave you gasping for
air. A hellish experience.
Copyright © 2004 Jerry Saravia