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Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell
Rated: R for Pervasive Strong Horror Violence and Gore, Language and Sexuality
Running Time: 1 h 50 m
TMM Score: 3 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Practical Effects, Zombie Stuff
WEAKNESSES: Anytime the Characters Talk
During a zombie outbreak, a group of survivors team up in a mall.
While Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead can’t really compete with George Romero’s version, there are some moments that make this film worth watching. It’s not bad, for a modern zombie flick, but at the same time, it’s no 28 Days Later. What I like the most about Zack’s version is that it pretty much gives you what you come for: almost two hours of zombie slaughter, a few creepy moments, and a lot of gory practical effects.
“You gotta shoot ‘em in the head!”
The plot of the first Dawn of the Dead is quite simple; a group of survivors hide out at a shopping mall while the zombie apocalypse happens. In this film, the premise is exactly the same (I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?). Our characters are all cardboard cutouts with a few defining characteristics that make them stand out- I probably couldn’t tell you any of the character’s names, and honestly it doesn’t really matter- the film is far from cinematic gold. There’s our one-note protagonist, blonde lady (Sarah Polley, My Life Without Me) (strangely enough Sarah Polley was nominated for an Oscar for writing Away from Her (2006) just four years after this film) and blonde lady’s crush (Jake Webber, Meet Joe Black); there’s Phil from Modern Family (Ty Burrell, The Incredible Hulk); Mekhi Phifer (8 Mile) and Mekhi Phifer’s pregnant wife (Inna Korobkina, Transformers: Dark of the Moon); mall security guy who is kind of a jerk (Michael Kelly, Man of Steel); and then there’s Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible)- oh, also some cameos by Tom Savini (Romero’s special effects artist) and Ken Foree (Peter from the original Dawn of the Dead). Anyways, within twenty minutes of the film, all of our characters wind up barricaded inside a mall near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and for the next hour and a half, they argue over petty things, evade zombie attacks, and make increasingly stupid decision that ultimately lead to a big zombie fight/ chase scene. What else do you want from a zombie flick?
So, first off, I want to say most of the dialogue is really poorly written. Strangely, James Gunn- the writer/director behind the Guardians of the Galaxy movies- also penned this film. In Guardians, I thought the writing was one of the best parts- the lines were quippy and fun- in this film the lines were mostly stilted and awkward. There are a few gross out James Gunn moments similar to the stuff he does in Slither, but this film is nowhere near as good as some of his other writing. Almost anytime the characters opened their mouths, the lines were rough to listen to, though a lot of that might have had to do with the delivery too. As with many horror films, a lot of characters do things seemingly without reason at the detriment of others. There are some nice character conflicts between the survivors in the mall, however, and that adds some tension to the film (though again, you have to excuse the dialogue and acting). The people in this movie would have to be absolute morons to make some of the choices they do, but it usually moves the story along to the next zombie skirmish. Really, that’s the best thing that I can say about the writing- though the dialogue is poor, and the characters are morons, at least the film moves at a pretty solid pace. The first Dawn of the Dead takes a long time to really ramp up, and some of those effects look pretty dated. I can totally understand why modern audiences would gravitate towards this film over the original, because after the first hour of character development, the rest of the film is just a zombie brawl. Just know that just because it’s a faster paced zombie film doesn’t mean it’s better.
As far as acting goes, everyone, except for maybe Ving Rhames, was pretty bad. I felt like every character had two expressions; scared or angry. Really, other than a few scenes, there wasn’t much emotion to cling to in this film other than people screaming at each other or shooting zombies. Michael Kelly was all right as the mall security officer, but he played him in a way that felt overblown and cartoonish. Ty Burrell was so over the top awful that Snyder is pretty much urging us on to cheer for his death. Sarah Polley’s character is pretty useless throughout the whole movie, and she’s supposed to be our POV character. Jake Webber, who is supposed to be our protagonist’s love interest, is about as exciting as a chewed piece of gum. Mekhi Phifer is Mekhi Phifer; he made me laugh in one scene and that’s about all I can say.
Really, the best part about this movie is the makeup with the zombies and the practical effects. There are plenty of blood splatters, head explosions, limb severances, and just straight up shooting zombies for a good hour of this film. For those who come just for zombie effects and kills, this isn’t a half bad flick (which is why I’m giving it three stars instead of two). There are some moments where they use CGI to bump up some of the effects, and that’s really where the movie ends up looking the cheapest.
It had been a while since I’d watched this, and so some of the elements came as a bit of a surprise again. I generally enjoyed the second half of this film, and didn’t really care for the character development in the first half of this movie. This movie succeeds admirably in being a zombie movie, and it fails horribly to be any sort of serious character movie. In the end, it’s a run of the mill zombie movie with a few great moments, but nothing so fantastic that it’ll become a classic.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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