I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I first saw this movie and then the original. What can I say, that was a time when I was more into science fiction and action. However, 2004 was the year of the zombie movies. First, we got Shaun of the Dead and then this movie blew the genre doors wide open. Dawn of the Dead is an exquisitely crafted and intense zombie movie featuring excellent practical effects and a gripping story. The movie isn’t afraid to kill off its main characters nor does it shy away from subverting your expectations. To put it quite bluntly, this is a movie that doesn’t coddle its viewers. And I fucking love it for that.
Dawn of the Dead follows a group of survivors who barricade themselves in a shopping mall to survive the zombie apocalypse. I wanted to recommend to you one of the biggest zombie movies because we oftentimes forget about those big movies. I know I sure did. Last night I watched it for the first time in the last ten years and that’s a lot. The first thing that hit me was the quality of not just cinematography but also production values. It’s amazing what Zack Snyder did with just $26 million. Yes, this is the directorial debut of the guy who will come to bring us 300, Man of Steel, and Justice League in the following years.
Although I much prefer his “smaller” movies like Watchmen and Sucker Punch. The next thing I noticed was the quality of the script. And the way it suddenly transitions from a realistic family drama to a fast-moving action horror movie. It lulls you into this false sense of security and makes the carnage that’s about to come much more impactful. This brings us to James Gunn, who wrote the script and went on to work on such huge hits as Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad. Again, I like his “weird” movies like Slither and Movie 43 much more than the big ones. I don’t want you to think that this “family drama section” is going to last too long.
Mostly because the zombie apocalypse starts after exactly five minutes. Yes, you read that right, Down of the Dead is one of those non-stop zombie action movies. A fast-moving monstrosity that will let you breathe for just a few minutes before hitting you with the next wave over your head. Almost all of the carnage is happening either in broad daylight or in well-lit spaces. That way we can see every little detail of every kill and bite. And there will be plenty of them. I mean, some of the people who were filming the whole thing had to wear plastic sheets over their clothes.
Dawn of the Dead features a lot of black humor and great one-liners. I think the most impactful one comes towards the end when one of the characters says fucking figures. While we’re at this subject, the thing I love most about this movie is the sense of escalation. Just when you thought that things cannot get any better or juicier, they fucking do! I’m a huge fan of “Let’s board up and defend against monsters” movies but I also love adventures. And that’s all I’m going to say. Although considering the fact that this is a twenty-year-old remake, I’m not sure how valid that is.
Oh yeah, I totally forgot to tell you that Dawn of the Dead, 2004 edition, is a remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic. Snyder and Gunn expanded on the story and even George himself considers the movie to be a great remake. Of course, the original was the first zombie movie that proved that the subgenre was ready for the big screen. It was followed by several sequels and all of them are great. And the movie we’re talking about today spawned several sequels as well. The movies are Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead.
Every single member of the cast of this movie did a terrific job. Who can forget Ving Rhames with his trusty shotgun or Sarah Polley as the resourceful nurse? Or Mekhi Phifer as the thug with a heart and Jake Weber as the TV salesman with a new sense of purpose? We even have Ty Burrell (Modern Family) playing the douchebag! All of them gave convincing and pitch-perfect performances along with a number of cool cameos. Tom Savini, the guy who was in charge of the make-up for the original, appears as the zombie hunter. And we can even catch a glimpse of Ken Foree, a veritable zombie movie legend.
Finally, I have to say that although I’ve seen this movie several times I was still excited and emotional during that nervewracking finale. Partly because I was so high during the first few times that I totally forgot what was going to happen. And partly because Dawn of the Dead, 2004 edition is such a good movie. It provides a perfect balance between action, suspense, and emotion keeping the viewer engaged throughout its relatively short runtime. This is why I find it so surprising that Zack Snyder’s latest zombie epic Army of the Dead was so bad. I guess, no Gunn, no party. You would be better off watching Planet Terror.
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: George A. Romero, James Gunn
Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers
Fun Facts: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing , and The Fly were major influences on the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake. Special make-up effects were created by a team headed by David LeRoy Anderson and his wife Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and not Tom Savini.