I’m unsure if Dawn of the Dead needed a remake. If it did, then I’m at least glad that the resulting film wasn’t terrible. The main problems that it has is the overabundance of characters and the fact that there is a severe lack of plot. But you’ll get a lot of gore and some decent scares, leading to what will probably be an enjoyable time while watching it.
We begin by watching a nurse named Ana (Sarah Polley) go about her daily nurse business. Working an hour past when she was set to go home, she ends up leaving after a mysterious patient disappearance — a man who was bitten in the head. She heads home to her husband, and after spending some time together, things begin getting strange. A little girl comes into their room, bites the husband in the neck, and then he begins trying to bite Ana. She escapes the house and begins to drive away.
Chaos is surrounding her as she drives. People are running around everywhere, explosions are going off in the background, and nobody knows what’s going on. Audiences do, though, as we’ve been exposed to a great deal of zombie films over the years. Zombies may have been fairly new to audiences when the original Dawn of the Dead came out, but nowadays, they’re standard enough fair. We know they’re something to be avoided, meaning all that’s left to be decided is what rules apply to the zombies in this universe.
From what I gathered, here are director Zack Snyder’s rules: You get bitten, you become a zombie; the larger the bite, the faster you turn; zombies can run, and will do so until they catch you; their attention will turn from you to another living human if the other person is closer to the zombie than you are; shooting the zombies in the head will kill them, but you should burn them anyway, apparently; and they don’t eat animals, for whatever reason.
So there you go. You have the rules. Now you just need a scenario. A mall is a good place, right? It worked in the original Dawn of the Dead, so using it again can work here. Ana finds a cop named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), an everyman named Michael (Jake Weber), and a man (Mekhi Phifer) who cares about his expectant wife (Inna Korobkina). They head to the local mall, where even more characters are met. The mall is mostly empty, although a few zombies are on the main floor, and some security guards, led by C.J. (Michael Kelly), are on the top floor.
Eventually, more characters show up. The two that stand out are the sarcastic man (Ty Burrell) and the animal lover, Nicole (Lindy Booth). There are at least 6 more, but listing them would be tiresome, and when you watch the film, you’re not going to care anyway. There are simply too many characters to be able to care about them all. Besides, you’ve seen zombie films before, so you know that most of the characters are there to eventually be chow for the creatures we all love to hate.
Motivation is simple: Survive. We go back and forth between zombie and human scenes, which actually works quite well. Holding up in a mall ends up being quite the boring experience, the characters learn, so they have to do things that make their lives more thrilling. You know, things like heading into the parking lot, allowing a zombie to survive because you don’t want to kill that person, or attempting to escape. Silly things that give us action scenes because otherwise all we’d have are characters sitting around, sharing depressing stories, while zombies just stand around outside doing nothing in particular.
Granted, quite a few subplots are given to us that work fairly well. It’s because of the downtime from the zombie attacks that we begin to care about some of the characters and a few of the things that they have to deal with. Ana just had her husband killed, Kenneth’s brother is in a location he can’t get to, the whole wife/husband storyline is touching and disturbing, while there’s also a man trapped on another roof who talks with the main group via whiteboards. There are superfluous characters who add nothing to the story, which is too bad, but you wouldn’t want a film like this going on for 3 or more hours.
For the most part, I was excited while watching Dawn of the Dead. Having zombies potentially waiting around every corner means that there is always something to fear, and once the zombies reveal themselves, they’re quite frightening. The makeup is solid, although we rarely get a chance to see the zombie faces up close. But giving them the ability to run instead of simply lumbering around means that they’re much more of a threat, and I liked that. They still come in groups, but they’re fast and you can’t just run away from them. this keeps things tense. Characters also argue and a couple of them seem shady, which also helps with enthralling the audience in the story.
Dawn of the Dead is a solid zombie film. It’s certainly different from Romero’s interpretation, and it mostly just uses the concept to craft its own idea. That works well enough, even if it means it lacks depth. It has too many characters as well, but there are enough that we’re forced to care about. The action and horror are both done well, and I was engaged for most of the time it was playing. Oh, and watch through the credits, as this film does its credits sequence very well.