“When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”
So…this is where Dead Rising takes a good chunk of its inspiration from, huh? In Dawn of the Dead, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin is flipped upside down. After a normal day of work, nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) comes home to spend time with her loving husband Luis. Of course, they do things that normal people married in love do. In the process however, they miss some breaking news that will alter their everyday lives.
The next morning, a very young girl who happens to be the couple’s neighbor appears in their home in a zombified form. Quickly, she attacks Ana’s husband who quickly falls unconscious. Ana frantically calls 911, but it isn’t long before Luis reawakens as a zombie and goes after his wife. Managing to escape and now on the streets of zombie-infested Milwaukee, Ana runs into other survivors, who determine that the only place of temporary refuge is the Crossroads Mall. But they can’t stay holed up forever, if only because the zombies will not allow it.
Like reading about, thinking about, and watching about zombies? Thank George A. Romero. Surely the idea of them existed before, but how the mainstream thinks about them now is owed almost completely to Romero. His groundbreaking 1968 effort known as Night of the Living Dead was originally thought of as nothing more than a horror flick with impressive extreme gore (for its time). As the years went by, it has rightfully received its due as an influential horror film and an influence on modern culture. He has went on to create six in the “Dead” series, and the 21st century Dawn of the Dead is actually a remake of Romero’s second in the series. Much worse has been done with remakes, but that doesn’t mean this is all that great either.
Despite the shocking bloodletting Romero had in his movies, many came to appreciate them because of the themes he interspersed within them. From consumerism to racism to government, he had something to say or allude to amid the horde of ravenous flesh-eating entities. With the most current Dawn of the Dead, there is no statement or message prevalent. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as not every movie needs to hold a mirror to society. With that said though, the movie better be fun then—especially if zombies are part of the equation. Oddly enough, it is a chore to sit through in periods.
Up until the second half, the film feels like it is in a holding pattern, going nowhere with little motivation by its characters. Sure, survival is a motivation in and of itself in a situation like this, but there is hardly any discussion or thought given to what needs to achieve survival. Perhaps I am looking into this too much, especially when I have never been in a zombie survival scenario.
Upon further review, the film’s lack of momentum may be more attributed to the band of survivors that appear throughout. Simply put, there are way too many of them. Between the random zombie kills,the first half is dedicated to introducing as many survivors as possible, but with only so much screentime to go around, you only really end up focusing on two or three maximum. Nothing would have been lost if the gang was cut in half (figuratively), and it may have even created more investment in those left.
Characters that minor investment is had with are played by Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames. Polley is an unconventional lead, but she turns in a solid performance, and Rhames’ character may be pretty bland, but he gives it personality when possible. Even Ty Burrell, now of Modern Family fame, has a minor role here and brings some occasional laughs as a pseudo-douchebag playboy. The rest of the cast just fails to garner any interest. The stock characterization does no favors, but again, with there being so many characters, there’s no reason to care about their survival even with the movie’s best attempts to give some solid backstory to a few. At least most do not do anything completely stupid, aside from Mekki Phifer’s character of Andre. You’ll know the stupidity when you see it.
In this remake, Zach Snyder is in the directorial seat, and it is a little different seeing him helm something that isn’t rooted in a superhero tale or a graphic novel. In fact, DotD is Snyder’s first full feature length film! The production is pretty high, as the makeup and gore effects do look relatively clean and top-notch.For the most part, Snyder does good with his direction. In particular, there are some well-captured shots of the undead in those really wide shots that show the scope of the outbreak. Specifically, Snyder really finds his groove as the movie goes on. This makes sense especially in this case, as this was apparently filmed chronologically.
Only thing that Snyder really struggles with is building effective scares. Though billed as a horror, this is much more on the action side of things, just with zombies. Not sure if it is the setting (can a mall truly be scary?), a lack of understanding by the director knowing what builds tension, or a combination of the two, but do not go into this looking for even mild scares. Additionally, those looking for inventive kills will also be disappointed as a whole.
Dawn of the Dead looked to have fun, B-movie written over it at least, but all said and done it is more disappointing than anticipated. That isn’t to say it is a completely dead film, just on life support in some places.
Reader’s note: I viewed the R rated cut of this, and not the unrated one. I’ve heard the unrated cut is the preferred for many in this film, so perhaps I need to give that a view. Perhaps in the future…
Photo credits go to impawards.com, news.moviefone.com, & artistdirect.com.
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