WARNING – SPOILERS!
Director: Zack Snyder
Year Released: 2004
When the undead rise, civilization will fall
‘Hell is overflowing, and Satan is sending his dead to us’ – the remake of George A. Romero’s immortal classic; Dawn of the Dead had mixed expectations when first announced but, as remakes go, it is a very entertaining watch. It differs significantly from its predecessor in many aspects, particularly the way in which the undead are depicted. Rather than the slow, shuffling zombies portrayed in Romero’s work, these zombies are far more agile and rabid-like in their mannerisms – the fact that they are able to sprint towards their prey makes for a very different pace in terms of the story.
At the beginning, we are introduced to one of the films main protagonists, Ana (Sarah Polley), a nurse who makes her way home after a long shift to her husband Luis (Justin Louis). That night the couple fail to catch the emergency broadcasts on the television and go to bed, blissfully unaware as the world around them goes to hell….
The next morning is one of chaos as a neighbours daughter enters the bedroom of Ana and Luis, covered in blood. As Luis attempts to help the young girl, she bites him on neck. Ana manages to push the girl out of the room and rushes over to Luis who is rapidly losing blood. As Ana struggles to reach the emergency services, Luis dies and, to his wife’s horror, reanimates almost instantaneously. Ana evades his attacks and makes it out into the street and into her car with her husband not far behind. She drives through the town as similar, horrific events unfold around her – the mysterious outbreak of unknown origin appears to be of extensive proportions. Before long, a man tries to steal Ana’s car, causing her to crash and lose consciousness. Next comes an impressive introductory sequence depicting chaotic scenes as the infection spreads…
When Ana comes to, she meets a police officer named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), along with a small group of survivors: Michael (Jake Weber), Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife, Luda (Inna Korobkina). Together, the group decide to hold-up in a nearby shopping mall. Once in the mall, the group splits up to investigate and secure the lower floors, taking out a few residing zombies in the process. Luda, however, is caught off-guard and injured by an infected individual in the process. As the group make their way to the upper floors, they suddenly find themselves at gun point by three security guards: C.J. (Michael Kelly), Bart (Michael Barry) and Terry (Kevin Zegers). C.J. and Bart decide to treat the group as hostages, take their weapons and give them chores to do – including making S.O.S signs on the roof to alert passing aircraft. While on the roof, the group discover another survivor on a nearby rooftop – Andy (Bruce Bohne), owner of a gun store, who later develops a friendship with Kenneth.
Before long, a truck carrying survivors arrives at the mall. C.J. and Bart refuse to let them in, but when Terry disagrees, the two security guards are outnumbered and disarmed by the rest of the group. The new additions to the group include Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Steve Marcus (Ty Burrell), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Monica (Kim Poirier), and Glen (R.D. Reid), as well as Frank (Matt Frewer) and his daughter, Nicole (Lindy Booth). Glen also wheels in a wheelbarrow carrying a severely injured woman (Ermes Blarasin) who was previously bitten and is consequently infected (she eventually dies, reanimates and is killed by Ana).
It is at this stage that the group establishes that bites transmit the infection – bites kill you, and then bring you back. Unfortunately, another member of the party had also been bitten previously – it is revealed that Frank was bitten on the hand and, to his daughter’s dismay, he is put into quarantine and eventually shot upon reanimation by Kenneth. Andre then realizes that his wife will ultimately succumb to infection. Though, blinded by his determination to bring their child into the world, he conceals his wife’s condition from the rest of the group. Meanwhile, the survivors find their own ways to pass the time, as the number of surrounding flesh-hungry zombies continues to rise.
Before long, a power-cut occurs, causing Kenneth, Michael, Bart and C.J. to make their way to the emergency generator located in an underground parking garage. It is here that they discover a dog (which is later named ‘Chips’). They are then set upon by a crowd of the living dead, Bart is surrounded, dragged to the ground and devoured while the others manage to escape.
Back at the mall things turn ugly as Luda, who is literally at death’s door and will inevitably join the ranks of the undead, is tied up by her husband so that she can give birth safely. Luda eventually dies, reanimates and goes into labour. Norma comes by to check on the couple, only to meet an untimely end – she sees that Luda is infected and shoots her without hesitation. At this, Andre, who is now in complete denial as he holds his newborn child (who is also infected), shoots Norma – the pair end up killing each other in a grisly shoot-out. The rest of the group, on hearing the gunshots, arrive at the gruesome scene and deal with any remaining infected individuals.
At this stage, the group feel that they can no longer stay in the mall waiting to die, so they decide to take action. Steve mentions that he has a yacht in the docks across town, so the group plan to make a break for it – they spend the next few days reinforcing a couple of shuttle buses and plan to pick Andy up on the way – his ammunition and shooting-skills would be major assets. Andy, however, is weak with hunger, having exhausted all food supplies. Therefore, Kenneth and the group load Chips the dog with food supplies and a walkie-talkie, and send him across the zombie – infested car park to Andy’s gun store. All goes to plan until some zombies follow Chips up into Andy’s hideout. Andy informs the group that he has been bitten, but assures them that’ll be fine – though the group know that this is not the case. Meanwhile, Nicole (who is very fond of Chips), foolishly goes after the dog, only to end up hiding from the reanimated Andy. Some of the remaining survivors go across to rescue Nicole and Chips; Tucker is killed in the process.
The group then set off in the armoured shuttle buses, using explosives to break through the undead masses. They hit a snag when Kenneth loses control of the wheel when turning a sharp corner, causing Glen, who was holding a chainsaw at the time, to accidently kill Monica. When the bus crashes, Monica and Glen are killed in the crash. Steve manages to crawl out of the ruined bus – only to be pounced on by nearby zombie. Once the passengers of the bus in front realise that they have lost contact with the bus behind, they head back for any survivors. Kenneth makes it out of the wreck while Ana deals with the infected Steve and retrieves the keys to his boat. The group (now consisting of Ana, Kenneth, Michael, Nicole, Terry and Chips) then make their way to the docks – with a huge crowd of zombies in close pursuit.
When they arrive, C.J. tells the group to go on ahead and, in a heroic move, sacrifices himself, giving the others a chance to escape. As the remaining survivors board the boat, Michael remains on the deck and reveals that he has been bitten. Despite Ana’s pleads, Michael tells the group to go on without him. He stands with a gun in his hand and watches the boat depart as zombies gather in the distance behind him – a single gunshot is heard, immediately followed by the ending credits. As the credits roll, camcorder footage depicts the group’s voyage. With food supplies long since expired, the remaining survivors eventually reach an island, only to be met by ravenous hordes of the living dead….
All in all, this film was a thrilling watch with a good mix of action, gore and drama. A particularly nice feature was the use of cameo appearances by members of the original cast including Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Tom Savini (a shop in the mall is also named after the actress from the original – Gaylen Ross). The effects were realistic and the action scenes gripping. One memorable scene in particular, involves some of the survivors who decide to pass their time by getting Andy to shoot celebrity lookalikes in the undead crowd surrounding the mall – ‘Tell him to get Rosie!’
Although George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead still reigns supreme, this modern retelling is worthy of recognition.
© 2004 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.