From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, March 29, 2004

Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Director - Zack Snyder; Starring - Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer; Screenplay - James Gunn from a screenplay by George A Romero; Rated R for lots of zombie oriented, flesh munching violence, and gore, along with some language and sexuality.

I found a great deal of humor in the fact that the weekend of March 19th, when this movie opened, a movie that had been number one at the box office for three weeks about a man who came back from the dead and told us to eat of him (The Passion) was displaced by a movie in which thousands of people come back from the dead and try to eat of us. Not being a huge follower of the zombie oeuvre, nor having seen Romero's original version, I had few preconceived notions heading into this one. I was rather surprised at how I came out of it.

What is Dawn of the Dead?
In present day America, a young nurse named Ana (Sarah Polley) goes home for the night after a shift at the hospital, and wakes to find her city, perhaps the entire country or the world, overrun by the living dead. People everywhere find themselves under relentless attack by these deadly, aggressive beings, who seem to feel nothing save a constant hunger for the living. She throws in with a rag tag group of survivors who retreat to a local mall to make a last stand for their lives.

Sounds like pretty standard horror/zombie fare. How well does it work?
Surprisingly, this one works really, really well for me. Let's start with the performances. With the understanding that you do not go into a zombie movie looking for Oscar quality performances, the main players are all pretty good at what they have to do.

Polley's Ana provides a fairly solid focus as one of the nominal leaders of the group. She relies on her training as a nurse to help try and ferry the group through the extreme emergencies their situation presents them. But you are given some more human moments to remember that she's just as overwhelmed by this as the rest of the group is, and is just as distraught by what has happened.

Ving Rhames has a turn as Kenneth, a local cop. He's mainly there to provide the bad ass mother presence that he's sadly been typecast with a lot since his turn as Marsellus in Pulp Fiction. Nothing ground breaking here, but he's enjoyable just being himself.

I thought Jake Weber had a really interesting low key role as Michael. Michael is something of a cipher when he first enters the movie. We only get a little bit of who he was before the dead started showing up for a buffet. But he's got some really interesting moments where we get to see he has some really good strengths to bring to the group. As well as some fundamental weaknesses.

Last of the performances to note is Mekhi Phifer as Andre. Andre and his wife/girlfriend Luda (you never find out really which it is, and it doesn't matter much) are on the verge of becoming parents (Luda is due any day now). They just want to try and bring their baby into the world, and maybe make a difference in how the world turns out, even in the face of zombie Armageddon. Their subplot is one of the interesting potentially.

The script itself has a lot of wry humor about itself. The first 5-10 minutes of the movie hit you in the mouth hard and doesn't let up much the whole way through. As such, the humorous moments really take the edge off and lull you into a false sense of security before going back to full throttle again. The movie really tries to wring you out by the end.

So is this one a rotting corpse of a movie? Or a fresh kill?
Personally, I think it's a pretty solid outing all around. I actually found myself watching it twice in a two week span. Normally I would find myself tearing apart a genre film like this on a second watch, having already gotten my kicks out of it on the first run. But this one I actually found myself appreciating a little more the second time. There are some camera shots that really give the movie a sense of the surreal for me (there's a couple of long tracking overhead in the opening sequence that I dig a hell of a lot). And there are some shots that I think have to be references/homages to some of the great horror movies of the last 25-35 years, including The Exorcist, Jaws, and I think maybe Aliens. I am hoping anyone else who sees this flick can let me know in the comments if they pick that up too. And I think the musical choices for the soundtrack are really inspired. Anything that can work the Jim Carroll Band, Johnny Cash, and Richard Cheese into the same soundtrack, and make it work, I think deserves some credit.

Overall, the movie is a nice fun little romp. It doesn't have the same aspirations of social commentary that the original supposedly had (my understanding is that Romero wrote the original as an anti-consumerism screed). But as fun, scary popcorn fare goes, this movie has a lot to offer. It's got action, some gallows humor, and a really good energy to the piece. If you can handle some scares, it's definitely worth giving it a look.