Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell
Director: Zack Snyder
Okay, it’s simple: one day there’s nothing – everything’s normal and people are going about their daily routine; the next day there’s zombies, and suddenly people you’ve known for years are dead (or, to be precise, undead) with a taste for human flesh. Chaos, confusion and destruction in the blink of an eye. Clumsily described as a re-envisioning of George A Romero’s quarter-century old horror classic DAWN OF THE DEAD stays true to the original in the simplicity of its concept: no explanation, minimum preamble, five minutes in and, bang, you’ve got your first dead man walking. Central character Ana (Sarah Polley) wakes one morning to be confronted by the zombified reincarnations of her friends and family. On the run and struggling to come to terms with the full horror of her situation she encounters some fellow survivors and they join forces to head for the relative security of the Crossroads shopping mall. Once inside they locate provisions and find some other fugitives taking refuge from the madness; together they seal off the mall and wait for help to arrive – only it doesn’t. And the number of zombies thronging the streets outside grows larger by the day….
Romero’s original film was loved by audiences and critics alike. Much was said about the use of a shopping mall as the survivors’ fortress: this was supposedly a scathing indictment of consumerist society (the masses mindlessly heading for the mall as if it were a modern day place of worship; people feeding off each other to fulfil personal greed, etc.). This element remains in the new version, but in addition there is the introduction of some sly political references to reflect the aura of conflict that pervades modern world affairs. In light of the current omnipresent terrorist threat it is not a huge leap of imagination to compare the normality-skewing apocalyptic nightmare faced by Ana when she awakes that fateful morning and the confusion and trauma that follows in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Death, mutilation, a breakdown in order, people turning on each other, fanatical mobs that feed off the murder and suffering of others. Reinforcing this metaphor is a short scene in which one of the main characters observes a television broadcast of a sheriff successfully containing the cannibal threat in his county whilst commenting to the effect that America will always sort things out.
A worthy “re-envisioning” of a cult classic DAWN OF THE DEAD is a tense (and intense) slice of visceral filmmaking replete with breathless shocks and decompositional gore. It maintains a subtle undercurrent of humour (amongst the piped mall music endured by the ever-decreasing group of survivors are muzak renditions of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “All By Myself”) but does not succumb to the scourge of modern remakes: self-referential irony used to compensate for a dearth of ideas. The characters may be stock (no-nonsense straight-talking chick, stoical tough guy, self-interested paranoid authority figure) but that is not a problem because they work well within the framework of the limited narrative. The hair’s-breadth escapes through small windows and closing elevator doors are over-familiar from the genre, as are the self-sacrificing heroics of some of the lead characters, but these are balanced out by some innovative visual flourishes and sturdy performances from a strong cast. And if you find the peaceful, but open-ended, conclusion a bit too relaxing then stick around for an even more ambiguous postscript intercut with the closing titles.