Written by: John Edward Betancourt
It is safe to say that any zombie fan is struggling right now. There's no new episodes of The Walking Dead for a few more weeks, leaving all those who love the living dead in limbo as we all work on finding something to fill the void. I have passed the time in this awful phantom zone by watching whatever zombie flick I can find on my shelf. But while the majority of my collection leaves me smiling with joy, there is one movie that leaves me coming away with mixed emotions every time I watch it, even to this day.
I am of course talking about the 2004 remake of George Romero's zombie opus; Dawn of the Dead.
We won't spend much time talking about the plot because of the fact that this is a remake. There are changes in the '04 version, but the core remains, the dead return from their graves, they eat people and we end up following the struggle of a few survivors as they secure themselves in an abandoned mall. But past that, director Zack Snyder has done the impossible and given the new Dawn the opportunity to stand out on its own, by creating a box office juggernaut out of a so-so remake.
At times the film comes off as an incredibly original piece of horror. In fact, the first ten minutes of the picture are tense and powerful, giving us a fresh look at the zombiepocalpyse. But from there the film becomes inconsistent, with flashes of brilliance quickly overshadowed by moments that leave you scratching your head. Perhaps the finest example of this is the odd turn that Mekhi Phifer's character takes with his obsession in having a family at the end of world, at any cost, culminating in a scene that answers the age old question of can there be a zombified baby? On paper one gets the impression this scene is breaking new ground, however on the big screen it comes off cheesy.
Despite the strong casting in this film, the two dimensional characters they are forced to portray remove you from the film completely, leaving you in a place where you never really care about the characters. Instead of being taken on an emotional roller coaster you simply sit back and observe a series of horrible events happening to people you just met.
But perhaps the biggest issue that I found with the film, was the incredible cheetah-eqsue speed that the living dead possess in this picture. This film gets kudos for bringing about the debate of whether or not fast zombies are more terrifying, but in reality there is no debate. Running corpses are a running joke. Now we can bring the running zombie from 28 Days Later into this conversation as well, but there is one significant difference...they were still living and breathing human beings. The dead in this film, are just that...dead. In fact if you look closely you can even see some incredible special effects work as these awful creatures decompose before your eyes as the film progresses which makes it all that much harder to believe they can run as fast as they do.
But despite all the flaws of this film, it is worth a look. Zack Snyder established himself as a top tier director with this picture and his visual genius is on display in every frame. Not to mention there are some genuinely good scares and gory scenes in this movie, and you'll definitely enjoy a few surprise cameos from the original cast. Just make sure that if you haven't seen this film you watch it without the original Dawn of the Dead in mind, as since this film can in no way be compared to its greatness, and no zombie film ever will. Instead take a moment to realize that this remake carved out its own special niche in the history of zombie lore, it brought the dead back to life by making the zombie popular once again.