Saturday 26 November 2011

Movie Review: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

A remake of a sequel always runs the risk of being a dodgy proposition, but the 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead just goes flat-out for fun. It's a supercharged zombie-killing fest, offering not much beyond the most rudimentary plot, but fuelled by endless hordes of the undead hunting for fresh flesh and getting re-killed for their troubles.

Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse in Milwaukee, ends a long shift at the hospital, goes back home to her husband Luis, and wakes up when a neighbourhood child busts into their bedroom, attacks Luis, and kills him by tearing a strip off his neck. But Luis soon wakes up as a member of the growing undead army and attacks Ana, desperately trying to get his meal of fresh blood. She escapes, speeding away in her car and witnessing outright carnage throughout the city as the zombies run riot.

Ana eventually teams up with a small group of survivors: a police officer, a man with his pregnant wife, and a few stragglers. They take refuge in a shopping centre, and join forces with the mall security guards who have barricaded themselves. A long siege follows, interrupted by in-fighting and occasional skirmishes with intruding zombies. The survivors finally devise a plan to reinforce two mall shuttle buses and make a run for the harbour, where they can commandeer a yacht and sail to the presumed safety of an island.

Compared to George A. Romero's original sequel from 1978, the zombies of 2004's Dawn Of The Dead are fast, ugly, and mostly visible in quick cuts and micro-edits. Director Zack Snyder, a veteran of television commercials, draws energy from the briefest of split seconds, with zombies filling the screen only long enough to register as a mortal danger. It's a style of enhancing horror by providing just glimpses of abomination, and it works.

Snyder does not spare the blood and gore, with bodies hacked, blood sucked, victims bulldozed, zombies chain-sawed and the undead shot through the head with wild abandon. The excessive violence does eventually immunize against its own impact, and late in the movie some of the zombie killing does dangerously approach unintended comedy territory.

Elsewhere, Canadian Sarah Polley adds an unexpected dose of talent to the cast of survivors and victims, although after a bright start she melds into the group and gets relatively little to do. The Canadian connection continues with most of the filming taken place at an abandoned mall in suburban Toronto. And for zombie affectionados, there are many locational and character in-jokes referencing the 1978 version.

Dawn Of The Dead does not win any prizes for originality, but delivers the expected carnage with a bloody flourish.

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