Dawn of the Dead-2004
Starring-Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames
Scott’s Review #956
Reviewed November 8, 2019
Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a remake of the original horror-comedy-satire film by legendary George Romero. What the original provided in intrigue and concept is lacking in the much bloodier remake- the freshness is not there. The film was made pre-television phenomenon The Walking Dead but watching it now with the zombie obsession at a steady decline, the film, while entertaining, feels tired and dated. The film feels patterned after the successful and fresh 28 Days Later (2002).
Now set in Wisconsin (the original was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Ana (Sarah Polley), returns from a shift at the local hospital, where she works as a nurse. She soon learns that massive bulletins alert sudden zombie plague, where former human beings have turned into cannibalistic corpses. Her husband a victim, Ana joins a small group of survivors at the local shopping mall and attempts to stay alive while being encircled by the creatures, and other not so nice people.
The main group includes a grizzled police sergeant, Kenneth (Ving Rhames), electronics salesman Michael, petty criminal Andre and his pregnant wife, Luda, and three guards, C.J., Bart, and Terry. They are later joined by others who arrive via delivery truck. The large group befriends another survivor, Andy, who is stranded in his gun store across the zombie-infested parking lot. The rest of the film offs the characters one by one in traditional horror style, while the remaining few try to figure out an escape route.
The main problem with Dawn of the Dead is that the characters are not written well, making them either one note or not particularly interesting, and quite stereotypical. Examples of this are the angry and defiant guards, who make trouble for the rest of the group for no other reason than as a weak plot device to create drama other than from the zombies. Kenneth is an angry cop, a lone wolf type of character, who frequently postures and preaches. Again, there is no interesting reason behind his personality. Finally, Steve is an oversexed playboy who keeps recordings of his sexual shenanigans for repeated viewings.
The character meant to root for is Ana. We sympathize with her for her husband’s gruesome death and her struggle to stay alive, so she is the films hero. Her character is likable and Polley is a worthy actress, but I wonder if a name star would have been better in this circumstance. Polley did not last very long in the Hollywood world and this only makes the film feel more dated than it already does. Many viewers will not know who the actress is.
Another irritant is the decision to make the zombies move faster. Part of the beauty of the zombies is that they are slow and brooding, unable to think, just existing in a mummy-like haze. Suddenly, they are fast, making them tougher to flee from. This attempt at a modern approach by changing things up too much does not work at all.
Dawn of the Dead is not all dour. Props must be given to the mall setting, updated for 2004 shopping inclusiveness. Trendy and timely stores are added, and it feels like a mall of its time. This is one aspect of the film that works and feels interesting. Eagle-eyed viewers may spot some of their favorite stores from this decade.
The strongest part of an otherwise mediocre film is the brilliant incorporation of the heavy-metal band Disturbed’s aggressive song “Down with the Sickness” from 1999. The song is incorporated over the stylistic end credits and a summary of what happens to the survivors is provided over the lyrically brutal song. Unfortunately, it is the very ending of the film where it finally hits a home run.
Since this is a remake it is impossible not to compare it to the 1978 version in many ways. The characters in the original had more salt and a romance added a bit of complexity. The original also felt fun whereas the 2004 version seems hardened and angry. The originality that made the original fresh is lacking in this retread, which limits the unique social context and thought provocation that the original contained.
With little reason to watch Dawn of the Dead (2004) unless it was still 2004, the original 1978 Romero version is far superior. A fun tip might be to watch them in sequence (I did!) to notice differences in style and pacing and for general comparison sake. The final musical score is a win, but much of the rest is dull and dated.