Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by James Gunn & George A. Romero

The first 45 minutes of Dawn of the Dead are so fuckin' good 'n' scary that it seems completely impossible that the remake will not end up totally outdoing the original from 1978. After a peaceful four-minute intro, we get our first zombie—a little girl who promptly feasts upon the neck of Sarah Polley's boyfriend—and from there, it's relentless zombie chaos for a good long while.

Polley hooks up with a group of survivors who barricade themselves in a shopping mall, hoping to wait out the quelling of the zombie uprising, a quelling that never happens. It's here that the film hits the skids, unwisely choosing to develop the characters and their relationships in an attempt to humanize the drama and raise the emotional stakes for their survival. All it accomplishes, though, is slowing the film down to the point that when the climax finally arrives, it's not nearly enough of a payoff.

I wanted to have a fatal heart attack watching this film. I wanted my hair to turn white and for my body to acquire rigor mortis, a look of pure horror frozen on my face, left for the hapless ushers to have to toss my corpse into a giant popcorn-filled garbage can, my shitted pants necessitating replacement of my theatre seat.

Instead, after a promising start, I left mostly numb to caring about the film's characters or their plight. Indeed, it would have been quite more satisfying to have seen them all torn apart by the zombie throng, and their brains eaten in graphic detail.

That said, there is still much to admire about DOTD2004. The zombies are terrific, the make-up created using autopsy photos as a reference. These are easily the most realistic and scary zombies ever put on film. And there are a few great bits of zombie comedy, such as the sequence wherein the survivors pick off zombies from their rooftop oasis based on the zombies' physical similarities to various celebrities.

There's a zombie childbirth scene that is as perfectly satisfying as it is unprecedented. And a great mishap with a chainsaw. And a gaunt Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) turning into a zombie. And Ving Rhames saying things like "If my foot was in your ass, would that be a problem?"

But ultimately, there is too little here that raises the stakes for zombie cinema, and in remaking a classic, that's what needed to happen. 28 Days Later accomplished far more, cinematically and also in terms of chill-thrills, with a smaller budget and less time wasted on character development (and with that film, I cared more about the characters, because the performances were so much more real).

The cinematography is solid, though it cops too much of the verité style hatched by Blair Witch and 28 Days Later. Despite rampant gore, a cool soundtrack, and brilliant editing, DOTD ends up feeling like the watered-down Hollywoodization it is.

What I wanted with DOTD, I didn't get, but what I got was alright. It's only reinforced the need for me to make Zombie Marathon, my script about zombies running a marathon. It's just 90 straight minutes of zombies rampaging through the streets, pausing only once every few miles to feast on brains in Dixie® cups, provided by volunteers, also zombies.

Review by La Fée