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Dawn of the Dead

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead

Starring: Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley
Director: Zack Snyder
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: March 2004
Genres: Horror, Action

*Also starring: Mekhi Phifer, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Lindy Booth, Matt Austin, Boyd Banks, Jayne Eastwood, Ken Foree, Matt Frewer

Review by Jerry Saravia
3½ stars out of 4

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

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