Saturday, October 10, 2015

Deep Cuts #4: Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake)

(Just in time for Halloween, the "Deep Cuts" series highlights horror films I think deserve a little more recognition. Not to say they're obscure by any means-- most are major releases. I just want to give them a little more love is all. Enjoy!)

Index of all "Deep Cuts" entries, updated as they're posted

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Dawn of the Dead (Remake)
American, 2004, d. Zack Snyder

George Romero's 1978 sequel to his groundbreaking "Night of the Living Dead" continued the film cycle essential to popularizing the notion of a "zombie apocalypse". As in the original, in this remake a group of those who have survived said apocalypse take shelter in an abandoned shopping mall to regroup and decide what to do next.

This film is smart and fast-paced, but still thoughtful. It features an ethnically diverse cast (two members of which are bald), including Ving Rhames-- and Ty Burrell, the Max Headroom guy! Also, women get to make decisions and have agency and stuff. Holy mackerel!

Directed by a pre-"300" / "Man of Steel" Zack Snyder. Written by James Gunn, who went on to direct a little movie called "Guardians of the Galaxy".

This movie sits honorably in the horror genre for its inclusion of some genuinely horrible scenarios. I won't detail them here in the interest of non-spoilerage, but I do appreciate the effort!

A lot of action films are all about unrelenting high intensity, but this one favors dynamics and tends to pause for the sake of emotional integrity. Relationships build believably among the characters. We're also granted moments where we witness their grief at what's befallen their lives in this catastrophe, which helps establish empathy and thus an investment in their struggles.

The film retains much of the original's sardonic humor-- in the shooting of "celebrity lookalike" zombies from the mall roof, for example. In the service of said humor, the use of music proves quite effective: Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" accompanies the depiction of all hell breaking loose, and the elevator at the mall briefly pumps out Air Supply's "All Out Of love". Snyder apparently had to fight for the inclusion of Richard Cheese's cover of Down With The Sickness.

Which is as good a point as any to discuss this film's predecessor, and why I find this one superior.

The original "Dawn of the Dead" was indeed ahead of its time: a horror film that satirized its contemporary landscape not only by equating the zombies with mall shoppers, but through its depiction of racist cops, rednecks hunting zombies (Romero shot footage of real hunters to depict the zombie hunting parties), and a fair dose of the aforementioned inappropriate music. And lest we forget, it also had Tom Savini's awesome gore effects.

All of which is well and good. But I have to say the remake is better written, acted, lit, costumed, directed, shot, edited, scored, and mixed than the original. Plus it retains all the essential merits as its predecessor. And so, with apologies to Romero fans, I must declare this the better film.

Another bone of contention (if you will) is the schism between fans of fast vs. slow zombies. While I acknowledge that the classic shambling of old-school zombies is creepy and super cool, I do have to wonder exactly how something that slow would take over the world with any sort of... well, any sort of anything. Hence my migration to the camp of fast-zombie fandom, as popularized by "28 Days Later" and its ilk. And to be clear, I'm not endorsing fast-zombie films prima facie by any means. But the convention does seem more sensible to me. And given the utter plausibility of zombies in the first place, this is of course an important distinction to make.

I look forward to a vigorous debate of all kinds on these issues, which burn like the corpse of a zombie that's already been shot in the head. Thanks much for your time, and happy Halloween!

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