In 2004, something magical happened. Set right at the start of the new wave of zombie popularity, a then-unknown director named Zack Snyder burst onto the scene with a remake of Romero’s 1974 film of the same name…and he nailed it.
Actually, let me correct myself – Written by James Gunn, Dawn of the Dead is possibly less of a remake, and more of a reimagining, as entirely new events occur in the 2004 film. When a Milwaukee nurse (Sarah Polley) wakes up to find that her neighbourhood has gone to hell, almost literally, she escapes and managed to encounter and team up with a few more survivors, led by policeman Kenneth…none other than Ving Rhames himself. They decide to take shelter in a shopping mall, where they encounter another group of survivors. With the mall being swarmed, the survivors have to do what they can to fortify the building but eventually, they are going to have to make a plan to try and escape to somewhere a lot more safe…
I have to say, this is easily one of my favourite zombie films to date. As with the zombies in 28 Days Later (who arguably were only rage-infected humans), the zombies are fast – very fast. Getting chased down by a zombie is almost certainly a death warrant, except if you are armed to the teeth. This is a huge step away from the original, which featured the original, slow-moving zombies. While a large part of the film is set inside the shopping mall, I really enjoyed watching how the survivors manage to re-establish a form of structure and community, even with a massive, overwhelming threat looming right outside the walls. Thanks to a few extremely disturbing scenes around the middle of the film, this never gets boring as the film takes us from one tense scene to another, with a little bit of help from a really fantastic soundtrack that includes Richard Cheese and Johnny Cash.
I really have to mention the stellar cast as well. As previously mentioned, Dawn of the Dead stars Sarah Polley, who I’ve always been a fan of, as well as Ving Rhames at his best. The always fantastic Matt “The busiest man in Hollywood” Frewer also stars, along with Mekhi “8 Mile” Phifer and Ty “Modern Family” Burrell among others.
Entertaining, violent, and tense, Dawn of the Dead really brings its A-game. It features everything that you could want from a zombie film – shotguns, zombie hordes, modified vehicles and loads of people being eaten in the worst way possible. It is also proof that, with a great script in hand, Zack Snyder is a great storyteller with a distinct flair for knowing what excites his audience. Dawn of the Dead is no exception and still, almost 10 years later, stands tall among a horde of other, mostly inferior, zombie films.
What are some other great zombie films of recent years, you might ask? Stick around, kid…I just might tell you soon. All that said, with Dawn of the Dead, Snyder managed to establish himself as a director to watch…whether it paid off or not, you might have to go and see Man of Steel when it opens later this month and let me know!
Last Updated: June 21, 2013