Throwback Review #3: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Posted: October 12, 2014 in Horror Blog
Tags: , , , , , ,

Yeah, yeah I know- it isn’t a Thursday. So sue me! But I haven’t done one in awhile, so I thought it best that I catch up.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a movie that I had forgotten about until I went to the library the other day and saw it sitting there. I remembered liking it, and considering it a big reason as to why we have such a surge of interest in zombies nowadays, so I picked it up, brought it home and watched it last night. Man, did I forget exactly how much I liked this movie. It defiantly is one of the better re-imaginings to have come out in the last decade.  As director Zach Snyder’s first solo feature length film (yeah, the same one who directed 300, Man of Steel, Watchmen, and the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) he did a great job telling the story visually and James Gunn’s story (as always) is just a real treat. It was ballsy, terrifying, and funny all at the same time. While being a tad cliche at times, especially with a lot of the characters, it makes up for with some bold choices and going to some rather dark places.

The movie is a remake/re-imagining of the 1978 zombie classic from Romero, the godfather of the zombies. It’s because of him and his films like Dawn, and (more importantly, I think) Night of the Living Dead we have zombies at all. This film, along with 28 Days Later, and Shaun of the Dead I believe are responsible for starting the modern zombie craze. True, Robert Kirkman and his 2003 release of The Walking Dead did have a part, but when TWD started out it was not the hit that it is today- and was a series that had limited printings at the time. But because of movies like Dawn, audiences were once again afraid of the living dead and were hungry for more.

These films (well, 28 Days and Dawn at least) also introduced us to a new concept- fast zombies.

Technically the infected of the 28 Days/Weeks films aren’t zombies (they are infected with a virus called “Rage” and they just aim to kill most of the time, rather than kill and eat) but it still is considered in the realm of zombie horror. But I digress.

For the first time ever we were seeing zombies that were as fast, if not faster, than our protagonists and this made them a whole different kind of horrifying. I’m not saying that slow zombies aren’t scary/can’t be scary. They can, especially when they have numbers on their side. But one slow zombie is manageable. One faster zombie presents a little harder target. Now imagine hundreds or thousands of these quick buggers…

It turns into a whole other issue. I’m not saying that one kind of zombie is scarier than the other, because they are equal. All I’m saying is that I believe that the faster zombies, especially in numbers, provide it more difficult to stay alive. But in the end, when you are alone faced with a herd of zombies- no matter if they are fast or slow, you’re dead either way.

Now, let’s talk about the actual film now. The cinematography of the 2004 Dawn is one of my favorite things about the film. The slightly overexposed gives it a unique look. Most horror films go for a darker and more ominous look, but this one has no problem just having everything out in the light of day or harsh florescents. And the camera work, for the most part, is really great as well. All of it combined gives us a taste of Snyder before he actually develops his “Snyder-style” of film making.

The story itself is good. While the original really shoves down your throat the message of consumerism this one vaguely hits on it, and it feels like Gunn focus’ more on the drama and reality of the situation at hand rather than a hidden message behind it all.

The practical effects were amazing, but CG not that much. Pain and simple. The zombie looked great though which, I guess, is the most important aspect to a zombie film.

As I said at the beginning, many of the characters are cliche. We have our obvious heroes, and foes, and crazies, and privileged people who we hate.  Some of the story lines are also rather forced and so old hat that you can’t help but sigh when they are introduced. Like the love story between  the two teens or the REALLY FORCED love story that has no explanation… like at all between our two lead characters, Ana and Mike. She looses her  husband in the first five minutes of the film and has only known this guy for… what, a few weeks? Yet they are in love, I guess, by the end of the movie when he reveals he is bitten. We don’t see her grieve at all, besides a quick second when she is getting supplies. And that was more out of feeling “well… the world is over and this sucks” rather than mourning the loss of her husband. So, bad move there.

I found that while some of it seems silly we do actually get a feeling of these characters and, of a good majority of the movie, the act fairly reasonable- except for a few exceptions. They act how we’d expect people to react in the situation. Also the unpredictability of what is going to happen (well… specific unknowns. We assume that all of them will die, it’s just the “how” and “when” we don’t know.) We also didn’t know how far they would go with some of the stuff. And man I feel like they took some real chances with this film. The main one being the following:

That was shocking. I mean, we all knew something was wrong. Something was going to happen to the baby. But what? Would it be normal, or slightly damaged, or would it be one of “them”? Well they showed us, shockingly, and now we know. It’s an intense scene and ends brutally.

Also the way that they ended the movie, with EVERYONE DYING was a real slap in the face that I masochistically enjoyed. What a disheartening ending. Nobody makes it out; they think they are safe only to have that rug pulled out from under them. It fits the tone of the movie really well, and… I think is a really honest way to end it.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this movie was the humor. Gunn does such a great way of weaving in natural humor into situations organically. That elevator scene, for example. Or the target practice scene. It really is a great foil to the brutality of the rest of the movie.

Also… I just want to add… I forgot Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) was in this movie.

When he showed up I automatically laughed. And a lot of his lines, I feel, were along the lines of something Phil would say. He character though, unfortunately, was one we were supposed to hate. And even though he was annoying and stuck up… I couldn’t, because… it’s Phil. I mean look at him:

Nobody can hate Phil!

In the end Dawn of the Dead is not without it’s flaws, but I consider it to be kind of a cornerstone of the modern zombie movement. Without it, and other zombie films of the early 00’s I don’t think these creatures would be enjoying the popularity they have today. It’d defiantly worth another watch if you haven’t seen it in a while. And watching it was a great way to get amped up for the season five premier of The Walking Dead tonight!!

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