|Dawn of the Dead (Unrated Director's Cut)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 26 October 2004|
It must be noted that the new “Dawn” departs from the original by sharing “28 Days Later’s” scary-eyed, growling and lethally quick living dead, rather than Romero’s lumbering creatures (it is unlikely any copying occurred – “Dawn” and “28 Days” seem to have gone through separate parallel evolutions of a new approach to zombies). Snyder and Gunn look at the subgenre of a plague of the undead preying on the living with clear enthusiasm and seem to have taken every good idea anybody has ever had on the subject and distilled it into an experience that is slam-bang terrifying.
After an optional onscreen intro by director Snyder, we open in a suburban Wisconsin hospital, where the knowing audience will detect a few hints of the apocalypse to come, though the staff are so far oblivious. We follow one of the nurses, Ana (Sarah Polley), home after her shift, see her greet a little neighbor girl in the street and then go into her home to cuddle up to her husband. The next morning at 6:37 AM – or exactly five minutes into the film – the little neighbor girl enters the house …
Horror fans have seen the type of sequence that occurs innumerable times before , but it is written, played and directed with full-tilt conviction, taking Ana from confusion to disbelief to terror-anguish-terror and finally numbed determination. As she escapes from her house through the chaotic streets by car in Chapter 2, we get good vehicular swerving and impact sounds in the mains and rears. Chapter 3 has no less an authority than Johnny Cash intoning the grimly foreboding country track “When the Man Comes Around” as the opening credits unspool, bracingly intercut with news clips that let us know in broad strokes what’s happening around the world before we rejoin Ana.
As in the original “Dawn,” a group of survivors – including Ana, policeman Kenneth (Ving Rhames), quiet salesman Michael (Jake Weber) and parents-to-be Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and Luda (Inna Korobkina) – hole up at an indoor shopping mall, defending it like a well-stocked fortress. They also must contend with a group of security guards, headed up by the hostile C.J. (Michael Kelly), as well as zombies within and without.
The new “Dawn of the Dead” reminds us all over again, as good movies of any description do, how wonderful any subject can be, regardless of how familiar it is, when it is approached by intelligent people who take it seriously. The cast is great and we can see why they’ve taken on their roles – they get the kind of strong dramatic material here that we associate with “serious” thrillers. Weber is a standout as a man who discovers his mettle in a crisis, Rhames is imposing without being superhuman and Polley is a naturalistic mixture of subdued shock and grit. Original “Dawn” cast members Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger and makeup master Tom Savini all have cameos.
The DVD transfer is very good, faithfully reproducing the dark reds and shadows under fluorescence that are the bedrock of the film’s visual ethos. Sound is fine. In Chapter 4, there is fine modulation of subtle Muzak with big breaking glass crashes. In Chapter 9, a truck hits a wall with room-shaking impact through the speaker system. Chapter 12 has resonant gunshots and a respectable hiss of spreading fire in the rears. Chapter 17 and 18 have progressively larger and deeper explosions.
Gunn’s script lets the situation speak for itself – tension is earned honestly, without an artificial crises caused by idiotic character behavior. The punchy editing by Niven Howie (so swift that it has an almost strobelike effect at times) and the makeup effects by David LeRoy Anderson are strong assets.
The disc has lots of good extras, including two separate mini-dramas, one with gun store owner Andy (Bruce Bohne), a supporting character in the main feature, contending with isolation, and another, featuring the late Richard Biggs as an increasingly frazzled and scared newscaster contending with round-the-clock coverage of the unfolding epidemic. Director Snyder and producer Eric Newman provide energetic, informative commentary, with great anecdotes – the one about Ving Rhames enduring in silence as his arm is mistakenly stitched for real is a real eye-widener. There are also three different featurettes on makeup effects and stunts.
It should be noted that the film continues throughout its closing credits – anyone who stops watching at the fadeout will have a very different experience of the film than someone who watches through the last frame. 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” is bracing, smart and in all ways registers both as strong horror and genuinely engrossing filmmaking.