Published Oct 30, 2012I'm sure it goes without saying, but it warrants repeating: The Walking Dead owes George A. Romero a heck of a lot. Nowhere is this debt more directly traceable than in the godfather of effective low-budget horror's first three dances with the undead.
Dawn, the middle child, is the breeding pool of drama, horror, social commentary and macabre mirth that spawned many of the characteristics and themes Robert Kirkman's multi-media juggernaut is most overtly influenced by.
From the moment the story starts, it's a foregone conclusion that the situation is out of control. Despite attempts by the government and local police to manage the plague of hungry corpses and preserve some sense of order, society is in a grim tailspin. After spending some time becoming acquainted with the state of national decay via newscasts, radio broadcasts and the reactions of our eventual protagonists, two SWAT officers escape the rapidly swelling chaos by stealing a helicopter from a television station with a guy and his girlfriend.
Even before digging deep into the personal fears and neuroses of the party of survivors while they seek refuge in a giant subterranean mall, Romero begins to develop the distinct personalities of his characters so that every near bite has the impact of someone familiar being in danger.
Continuing to defy Hollywood's passive-aggressive racism, Romero cast another strong African American lead, with Ken Foree playing de facto group leader, brave, charismatic and level-headed Pete. A stern and confident but likeable authority figure, he represents a balance between the pragmatic reasoning needed to survive and the flexible grip on sanity one requires to avoid bugging-out completely.
Sure to confuse those seeking impenetrable dread, Dawn of the Dead wears its sense of absurdity boldly, contrasting gratuitous carnage with ghoulish satire and gory slapstick. Not long after a newscaster intones "Despite everything you hear, there are still some people with a sense of humour," there's a scene of Pete and Roger hamming it up on a supply run, followed by a long sequence featuring shuffling hoards of shoppers careening through a sea of useless products.
That's only one of many angles the mindless consumerism metaphor is being blatantly pushed from and Romero has a lot more to say about human nature throughout the course of the film's somewhat bloated runtime.
There's slightly less emphasis on social anxieties than in The Crazies, but Dawn posits its fair share of questions and does so with a manic sense of randomness that echoes the inscrutability of life.
Romero's most referenced effort is one of his most technically assured visions and a seminal contribution to the cinematic lore of the undead.
Dawn of the Dead screens at 7:30pm on November 3rd, 2012 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the George A. Romero retrospective. On October 31st, 2012 at 7pm, there's also an "In Conversation" session at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with the legendary director. (Astral Films)