Published Mar 01, 2004George A. Romero's original Dawn of the Dead is a horror classic that managed to transcend the "horror" genre by its savvy, if over-analysed, depiction of consumer-driven culture and its excesses via the symbolism of flesh-hungry zombies invading a shopping mall to snack on the few human survivors inside and their savoury innards. The 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead has no such lofty goals, instead choosing to be a fairly straightforward action/horror piece, but, unexpectedly, it's not a bad one, unlike, say, Resident Evil. Of course, they should have just called it 29 Days Later, but then it would have been shot in the UK, not the Great White North, and it would be missing the commercial value of the Dead name.
Even updated, the general plot remains the same: the dead, for reasons never, ever explained, are walking the earth, snacking on whomever they can find, who then turn into "undead" themselves and join the rampage. Chaos ensues, as society breaks down and humans drop a link on the food chain, and rag-tag groups of survivors do their best to stay off the menu. One such group, featuring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer and a few others, take refuge in a shopping mall, where they meet up with vaguely fascist white trash security guards, introducing some non-zombie conflicts, and await a rescue that will never come. Thus the characters have to decide whether to stay where it's "safe" or make a break for it, hoping to find a zombie-free locale that may or may not exist.
Unlike the original, which used a sparse cast, this year's Dawn goes for more of an ensemble cast and while Polly, Rhames and Jake Weber (the mains) are all fine, the dialogue is sparse and the characters underdeveloped, with some introduced just to show how the undead virus is transmitted, become undead chow or to have sex before dying horribly. Also, this Dawn is mostly devoid of the shopping spree excess of its predecessor or its transformation from utopia to purgatory.
Of course, we're coming for the gore, and while there's nothing as over the top as the bowel-eating scenes of the original, the "revisioning" features a plethora of realistic zombie headshots (the only way to kill them), some remarkable explosions and crashes, more realistic gore than the original and a very, very disturbing zombie birth. And, most importantly, it's actually scary, at least at times.
What also elevates this version beyond crap is its tight editing and pacing, use of music, numerous references to other great horror classics that have come before it(obviously the Dead trilogy, Aliens, 28 Days Later) and its sense of hopelessness, which is confirmed in the closing credits.
However, purists may have the biggest problem with the updating of the "zombies" (and the absence of the biker gang marauders). No longer blue lumbering hulks, the undead of this Dawn take after 28 Days Later's "infected," being fast, strong, voracious and vicious, and while this may make them scarier, it also loses them some old school charm.
Despite the rather hopeless ending of its credits, look for Dawn to spawn some sequels and do well with the horror and action fans, in spite of not quite living up to the rather lofty standards of the original. (Universal)