Six months after the rage virus was inflicted on the population of Great Britain, the US Army helps to secure a small area of London for the survivors to repopulate and start again. But not everything goes to plan.
Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and his television executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
A shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.
A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
Ana goes home to her peaceful suburban residence, but she is unpleasantly surprised the morning that follows when her husband is brutally attacked by her zombified neighbor. In the chaos of her once picturesque neighborhood, Ana flees and stumbles upon a police officer named Kenneth, along with more survivors who decide that their best chances of survival would be found in the deserted Crossroads Shopping Mall. When supplies begin running low and other trapped survivors need help, the group comes to the realization that they cannot stay put forever at the Shopping Mall, and devise a plan to escape. Written by
"Attention Shoppers! The mall is now closing forever.."
How will mankind behave in the end times? Will we turn into raving lunatics and attack one another? Will we try to slavishly hold onto some fabric of our society? Will we kick back and accept what is happening?
`Dawn of the Dead' in some ways tries to answer that question. The movie, a remake of George Romero's classic 1978 sequel to `Night of the Living Dead,' throws a group of people together while society crumbles around them and allows the viewer to watch as humans seek to survive an onslaught of the undead.
The movie opens with the unimaginable happening. Hordes of zombies have overtaken Milwaukee and numerous survivors are both fighting off the monsters and trying to escape the city. One such group includes Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse who is running scared after losing her husband, Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a tough-as-nails cop, Michael (Jake Weber), who tries to be two-steps ahead of any dangerous situation, and Andre (Mekhi Phifer), whose trying to care of his pregnant wife.
Seeking shelter from the waves of zombie attacks, the group decides to head toward a local mall and hole up there until help arrives. Once inside they join with security guards and use the shopping center as a refuge from the undead while trying to piece together what's left of their lives.
The plot is pretty straightforward, and relies mostly on cliché themes to move the story along. So as a rule, most films such as this tend to be predictable and quite tepid. Luckily, `Dawn of the Dead' has strong personalities to fall back on, making it thankfully every bit a character-driven drama as it is a horror-action piece.
As Ana, Polley convincingly plays a waif turned survivor with just the right amount of emoting. She is strong and vulnerable at the same moment, trying to remain reasonable in unreasonable times. Weber also fits this bill as Michael, a man with a shady past full of regret who tries to fill others with hope while remaining a stark realistic.
Rhames' performance clearly commands the most attention. As Kenneth, he becomes the group's de facto leader and top man of action. He keeps the clearest head when trouble is afoot and leads the group out of one scrape after another. Rhames gives the character a silent strength that provides the film with a much needed human edge.
First time director Zack Snyder moves the film along briskly and effectively, keeping the action scenes tight and the dramatic scenes quiet. There is no heavy-handed sermonizing here that tends to infiltrate most big-budget horror movies -- Snyder wisely lets the images speak for themselves.
The horror itself is shocking and grabs your attention, which is a plus considering most of the recent crop of thrillers. The fact that it is happening to sympathetic characters that we care about is another feather in the movie's cap.
All to often most horror movies are just excuses for numerous poorly developed characters to be killed in awful ways for the enjoyment of the audience. As far as recent zombie movies go, `Dawn of the Dead' thankfully remains closer to `28 Days Later' than `House of the Dead.'
However, despite all the movie's strengths, it still pales in comparison to the original. Romero's `Dawn of the Dead' took the premise of people trapped in mall and used it to make some pointed social commentary about consumerism. The first '`Dawn' had human characters selfishly hoarding material goods for themselves, using the mall not only as a refuge from zombies but also as their own personal palace that provides them with more items than they could ever need.
It's to the detriment of the new film that it never takes the concept to this level. Here, the story seems to take place in a mall because it's a cool place for a horror movie, not because it can draw out anything interesting in the characters themselves. Also, in the original the zombies wanted inside not only to eat the humans but also because they are drawn to the shopping center since is was an important place to them when they were alive.
It's a shame that this time around viewers won't get the chance to see zombies wandering around JC Penney or stumbling up and down escalators, the joke being humans amble about aimlessly themselves like the undead at the mall.
`Dawn of the Dead' is a very bloody and terrifying film but it lacks the superior gory effects from the 1978 movie. That should not stop the squeamish from twitching in their seats due to the horrific content onscreen.
Good acting and smart thinking elevates the proceedings among most other horror offerings, but compared to Romero's original it lacks the observations necessary to make it a classic. The first film remains an intelligent critique on human actions during the apocalypse, while this is just a suspense drama that is dressed to kill.
8 out of 10 stars. Not as good as Romero's original, but still one heck of a shot in the arm to cure the memory from most modern horror misfires.
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