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Dawn of the Dead

01/05/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Dawn of the Dead in the USA - or Buy Dawn of the Dead in the UK

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Frank sits down to watch Zack Snyder's surprisingly winning remake of the flesh-eating fable Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead (2004). Universal Pictures. 1 hour 40 minutes. Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Mekhi Phifer, Inna Korobkina, Michael Kelly. Directed by: Zack Snyder.

Generally there's no flexibility or tolerance for a contemporary sequel to do justice to the memory of its classic original. However, there may be some room for exception in Zack Snyder's surprisingly winning remake of the flesh-eating fable Dawn of the Dead.

Of course avid moviegoers will recall the impact of filmmaker George A. Romero's cherished 1978 gorefest of the same name. Plus, folks need to realize that Romero's spry late seventies horror show of walking zombies was lifted from the inspirational 1968 choppy but tension-filled Night of the Living Dead which should definitely be revered as a treasured golden oldie in shock cinema.

In any event, Snyder's modern day take on the bloody barrage of lifeless lunatics ascending upon an unsuspecting world is robust in its cheesy and stylistic scare tactics. In many ways this updated second installment of Dead is provocative and uniquely sophisticated in the way it challenges the audience with its notable mixture of glorified gore and goofiness. Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn have collaborated on a petrifying project that oozes a nightmarish apocalyptic aura that screams paranoia throughout its ribald run.

Granted Synder's Dawn of the Dead may not eclipse the superior likes of the earlier released and exceptional 28 Days but its seedy spirit and inclination for mauling and mayhem is certainly in the right place. Unlike last year's uneventful attempt to revitalize the blood-splattering genre with the tepid remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Snyder fuels Dead with a sense of mischievous and menacing forethought that's substantive in its harried imagination.

The morbid message gleefully suggests the urgency for all of us to consider the various dark forces that may hinder us at any given moment. For what it's worth, 2004's Dawn of the Dead is a killer thriller that has an over-the-top raw presence that stimulates and takes its observers on a tumultuous trip through its perverse playground.

The heroine stuck in the middle of this ominous zombie-bound invasion is a Wisconsin-based nurse named Ana (Sarah Polley), one of the few survivors to escape the clutches of the swarming zombies that seem to be overtaking the region in droves.

After observing her husband's demise courtesy of a zombie tyke chewing the breath out of this stillborn corpse, Ana successfully flees the scene. Wading through the chaos that rules the panicky streets, the understandably nervous nurse roams about until she can find some suitable shelter to take her away from the madness that persists.

Eventually, Ana ends up in the company of fellow non-captured human targets Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a tough-minded police officer, and good-natured salesman Michael (Jake Weber). The trio end up using the neighborhood shopping mall as their temporary sanctuary along with a slew of security guards already stationed at this venue. Also in attendance is a street savvy urban guy (Mekhi Phifer from NBC-TV's long-running hospital drama ER) and his pregnant galpal Luda (Inna Korobkina).

Soon, this group will be joined by a healthy number of other worried folks trying to evade the masticating monsters that dare to use them as walking snack food. Thus Ana and her concerned cohorts are holed up in a claustrophobic collection of close knit shops trying to assess what the opportunistic zombies have done outside in their campaign to contribute to the termination of the world's vast society.

While the shopping mall serves all the inhabitants conveniently while they try to fend off the pesky zombies pounding outside the mall's walls one cannot help but be curious about the destruction taking place outside. The mall is the comfort zone for Ana and company but by the same token it serves as their expansive prison cell as well. The restrictive movement of a cooped up bunch under any roof would be cause to turn anyone batty while confronting the potential dangerous elements looking to break in and cause further alienation.

The constant zombie activity magnifies itself with the cluster of ruined homes and businesses, burning cars and the trapped people on the bloody streets not fortunate enough to find a place to reject the intrusion of the wicked walking stiffs and their madcap agenda. Amazingly, Snyder is resourceful enough to remind us how really hostile and vulnerable both universes are for those who hide from and reluctantly walk with the devious dead.

So what's the sudden reasoning for these flesh-finding fiends and their affinity to dine on human hide? Well, there's an undetectable plague that somehow have entered the system of certain people thus making them cannibalistic while having these same ghouls crave for a living being's tissue.

It should be noted that Snyder's brand of action-packed zombies aren't the slow plodding, hypnotized cretins with the arms stretched out and the stoic look in their slimy skin-crawling eyes much like Romero's terrifying troupe of yesteryear. In the millennium version of Dead, Synder's sinister suckers are quick on their feet and have the persistence to match.

Dawn of the Dead is a polished and giddy remake that has the caustic vibes to make it a satisfying slasher satire. The movie is devilishly droll and plays on the notion pertaining to our inherent fears of the unexpected. Also, it's crafty in its ode to taking a winking pot shot at consumerism. Snyder, much like Romero before him, uses the shopping mall as a utopian staple where the gluttony of free product placements is as overbearing as the film's villainous pack of death deviants looking for a human hamburger to chomp on.

The fury of civilization coming undone in an instantaneous ball of confusion is thrown at the viewer within the first five minutes of the film's opening. It's a challenging gesture for Snyder to want to have his on-lookers confront the hectic and absurd antics of his warped world all in one swiping hedonistic movement.

Snyder, a one-time video director, chose to do the remake of Dawn of the Dead as his first foray into the feature film scene. And this is not a bad way to break into the mode of the horror movie genre where the majority of the flimsy and familiar offerings are dead on arrival more than the human-hungry zombies that make up Snyder's haunting haven.

The performances aren't just played for the standard camp-induced kicks; they are solid and three-dimensional despite the nature of the zombie-munching material. Snyder is perceptive in casting established actors to give some credibility to his wily venture instead of going the teen scream route as so many of the slice e'm and dice e'm flicks tend to do.

As the leading lady, Polley (Go, The Claim) is the heart and soul of this chewy thriller as her alter ego Ana is called upon to put her nursing skills to use in the midst of all the sadistic sensationalism taking place.

Polley is poised yet there's an unsettling aspect to her hidden anxieties that may be more explosive than realized. Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Baby Boy) is the determined law-enforcing brute that brings a sense of order and discipline to the gross out session that swarms around him. In fact, there's a microcosm of prototypes that Snyder aimlessly stirs in the stew as they must coexist and learn to cope with the strife that threatens their precious livelihoods.

Dawn of the Dead is not a popcorn pleaser that will easily agree with one's sensitive stomach. The real diehard gore-minded enthusiasts will appreciate the visually graphic images that the maneating misfits enjoy tossing about in their path to gruesome glory.

The Dead of a quarter of a century ago was fun and frolicking in its wayward wake. But there's no need to relive the defining nostalgic taste of a supple frightfest when Snyder's current bid to bring the scabrous goodies for today's Dead heads will do just fine and dandy.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2004

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