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Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead
                    Rated R
        Running Time: 97 minutes

With so many remakes recently (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Toolbox Murders, Night of the Living Dead) horror fans are desperate to see one that fulfills the promises of the older version, while creating new and more interesting horror scenes for a more desensitized, and increasingly younger, audience.

Its a difficult thing to balance these two concepts, but Dawn of the Dead has done a much better job than some of the other disasters that had the audacity to call themselves remakes this past decade.


Taking place the morning (hence, DAWN) after Night of the Living Dead takes place, the original Dawn of the Dead has long been known as that zombie movie that takes place in the mall. Well, there is much more mall in this remake than in the original, much to the delight of valley girls like me everywhere. The main difference between this film and the original, and the one likely to gain new fans while alienating loyal followers of the original, is the nature of the zombies themselves. The zombies in the remake are fast moving, animalistic, and attack humans as if they were stalking prey. Zombies in the original film are slow-moving, like all of George Romeros zombies, and are not that bright. This change in the temperament of the zombies creates a whole new set of rules that the victims (or heroes, as they are often interchangeable titled) must follow in order to survive. Likewise, the inclusion of more guns is necessary to allow the heroes to survive. After all, more guns for faster moving targets, right? More guns, faster zombies, and more characters (more characters means more deaths and more excitement!) dont hamper the character development, which is fantastic. Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames outshine all the other cast members of this horror film by staying true to their spirit, while showing their vulnerability without being whiney (which is often an annoyance in zombie films).

By working together, the team of eight or nine survivors shacks up in a mall, utilizing every resource at their fingertips in order to keep the zombies at bay while waiting for help. The entire world around them is destroyed, but they are contained within a shopping center filled with food, clothing, and pastimes that allow them to temporarily forget that the apocalypse has come and get to know each other a little better. Friction and struggles for power within the group keep things interesting, but the necessity of sticking together pervades throughout the entire clan. When the survivors do separate at times for various reasons, it inevitable ends up disastrously for one or more of them. When it is obvious that help is not going to come, the survivors form a plan that will allow them to escape the mall, and eventually escape the zombies entirely, leaving them free to live without fear and to rebuild whatever tenets of society they will be able to recall. Though risky, they would rather risk their plan than die in the mall or end up being a zombie like one of the walking corpses that now dominate their world.


Some artistic and plot choices kept this film from really developing into the societal statement that it could have been. By infusing a zombie film with symbolism and philosophical arguments, it can be appreciated by a much wider audience and seen as something more than just a scare flick. The original Living Dead series is often seen in this light, and the original Dawn of the Dead was seen as a commentary on American consumerism and excess of the seventies and eighties. The remake has none of that, as the idea that they are trapped in a mall is never even explored as some kind of symbolic connotation.


Another choice that was made that changed the nature of the artistic possibilities of the film is the cause of the zombieism. In the original film, the zombie plague was caused by an unknown force that revived dead corpses directly out of their graves, as well as those who happened to be killed by a zombie along the way. Though true to the idea that a zombie can only be killed by a shot or blow to the head, the remake insists that the plague is a virus of some kind, and only those bitten will be turned into zombies. This means that thousands of corpses in their graves are not resurrected, and those that die of natural causes are not resurrected. By making the cause of zombieism a virus, Dawn of the Dead follows in the footsteps of the film 28 Days Later, taking away the religious undertones of punishment, or the possibility of governmental responsibility for the zombies. Obviously changed to be more fearful for todays viewers (who do not fear communists, consumerism, or the wrath of god but rather serious illnesses like Aids and many other infectious diseases passed on through sex, blood, and irresponsible behavior) the idea of a virus takes away any hint of the supernatural, which is the staple of the horror genre.


An ending that does reinforce the futility of escape, and an acceptance of the end of human civilization, is touching but does not even enter the film until the end credits (if you happen to stick around for them).


Without the symbolism, a zombie film is merely a conglomerate of dead things walking around randomly killing people, and while this is entertaining, I would recommend Resident Evil as a much more interesting shoot-em-up zombie film, or the U.K.s 28 Days Later as a virus-plague apocalypse tale. Dawn of the Dead the remake seems to fit somewhere in between, wavering between mainstream horror and poetic character drama, never aware of the strong images of conformity, civilization, and even the uselessness of human survival that it potentially hold within it.

-Heidi Martinuzzi