In 1978, George A. Romero followed up his classic “Night of the Living Dead” with an even bigger horror hit known as “Dawn of the Dead” this time showing the world only weeks after the outbreak where society is now overrun by the undead and carnage ensues as people struggle to comprehend what is happening and how it happened. True, director Zack Snyder’s re-working of “Dawn” is a lot slicker than the original, but ultimately it lacks the truly sick and sometimes twisted satire and jabs at pop culture and the consumer era. In the original, the zombies hover around the mall for no particular reason; there’s no need for any of them to be there, they have no use for anything in the mall, yet they still walk around, and even fight the survivors for control over it, for no particular reason except territorial purposes. The mall in the original film was a character and a presence while the mall in this contemporary version is simply a plot device that barely has any such relevance to the outcome of the new story.
There’s absolutely no sense of substance injected in the narrative, lacking any social commentary the original so richly achieved and becomes a very shallow piece of horror. By the time the final scenes roll around, Snyder just tosses all characterization and logic out the window, in favor of endless action sequences, and bland explosions for the sake of explosions. If this group made a break for the docks, why didn’t anyone else think to do the same? After a long shift at a hospital a young nurse named Ana returns home to her husband for a night of love-making and a relaxing weekend. If only she’d paid attention to the numerous attack victims entering the hospital, and the emergency broadcasts on the radio and television. She awakens to horror when her young neighbor viciously bites and kills her husband who re-animates moments later and lunges at her. She manages to escape their vicious rabid assaults and looks out onto a war zone in her neighborhood where her serene suburb is now a war zone.
In a desperate attempt to escape the confusing carnage she accidentally crashes her car and stumbles upon Kenneth, a security officer and a slew of other survivors. They flee to the local mall where they set up camp and must hold up against the thousands of zombies waiting outside the door, staving off cabin fever, and the eventual realization that they can’t live in the mall forever. While “Dawn” sports a slew of grade A character actors including Rhames, Pfeiffer, and Sarah Polley respectively, the acting leaves so much to be desired. Especially from Rhames, and Pfeiffer, both of whom struggle to turn their characters in to individuals of substance while being handed almost nothing to go on with their survivors.
The only performers that really come out of the film clean are Jake Weber as the somber ex-salesman, Michael Kelly as anti-hero CJ, and Sarah Polley who rises above the material with a great portayal as heroine Ana. Snyder’s version plants seeds for intelligent plot points including a scene where the group entertains themselves by shooting zombies that resemble celebrities, lending an insight in to the mindset of the group. But it’s all tossed out the window, and never quite touched upon again. Especially in the face of really bad foreshadowing, and even worse dialogue delivery. There’s also the very compelling sub-plot involving a gun store owner across the lot of the mall who is stranded, offering the group some companionship during their misery.
Snyder’s characters are all broad strokes in a larger zombie film, thus everyone merely stumbles around in the mall spouting lame exposition that act as nothing more than clotheslines for the next action scene. For all intents and purposes, the opening twenty minutes are shocking and very tense, providing an incredible glimpse at a film that never quite lives up to the potential it promises. There’s a larger cast in this version, so there’s so much more cannon fodder, and a lot less time to understand their motivations and reasons for fighting. Characters are included only to be killed later on, and the audience catches on quickly. We know why the bloated woman is taken to the mall and focused on, we know why some of the characters don’t have a lot of dialogue, we know why the hot girl is there, and despite being a veteran character actor, Matt Frewer barely has a role to be considered a part of the cast.
Why even feature an actor of his caliber for a pointless sequence? Though the finale is exciting and filled with tension providing a rather solid chase sequence, the writers blatantly ride off the rails in favor of goofy action scenes and character moves that lack any and all logic. There isn’t a single intelligent character in the bunch, and most times, the writers make such baffling moves in narrative just to move the story along. It’s a shame that a zombie movie so based around a quick pace and frantic action dodges any attempts at keeping a cohesive story.
Snyder litters the film with as much plot holes and giant gaps in logic more than he does blood and guts, and it becomes easily distracting. Sure, there is lip service paid and nods to the 1978 original “Dawn of the Dead,” but in the end, Zack Snyder’s take fails to hold a torch to the original, opting for a speedy action based bit of escapism, rather than a reworking of a horror classic that can offer audiences something of substance, and wit. “Dawn” will surely appeal to the easily pleased fraction of horror audiences, but I’ll stick to the original for the sake of keeping to horror that stimulates as well as horrifies.