Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

Ah Watchmen, a movie so good that it forced me to go back and rewatch Dawn Of The Dead. Love him or hate him, Zack Synder has proven himself to be one of the most unique stylists of the modern day. I decided now was as good a time as any to go back and check out his debut feature.

Even if it’s one I loathed.

Let me explain I don’t like the original Dawn Of The Dead I love it. As well as being a damn fine horror film its one of the most blackly funny satires of America ever made. A vision of a world not unlike WALLE’s where corporate culture has infalatized us to the point where everyone from Hare Krishna to Cops to Nuns can only worship before the all mighty call of consumerism, and be devoured by their hunger. In Romero’s bleak world view we’ve voted for Mammon over God to a startling degree.

What bothered me about the remake wasn’t the fast zombies or any other such canonical nonsense, but the way this satire was stripped from the films very soul. The mall ceased to be a materialistic hellscape and became just a cool fort to hang out in. So much so that when our survivors do decide to band out their decision just seems arbitrary zombie baby or no.

Almost worse is the way the remake jettisoned the orginal’s intimate four person cast to become an ensemble piece thus losing a huge amount of the claustrophobia. The ensemble itself is a mixed bag Ving Rhames and a few others do solid work, but Sarah Polley never quite loses the “Gawd I can’t believe I’m in a zombie movie.” Indie girl vide.

At the end of the day Dawn Of The Dead became just another zombie movie, and to my mind at the time not even a particularly good one.

Watching it for the first time since theaters I can see I underrated Dawn Of The Dead. It is a particularly good zombie movie. From his opening frames Synder proved himself to be a canny stylist, taking his time building the day to day rhythms of suburbia before ruthlessly tearing it all down in one fell swoop. The carnage and the pace of the first attacks is a textbook in action filmmaking. Synder films the apocalypse with a sense of sheer scale that has never really been scene in a horror film before. Ten minutes in the viewer is left with a palatable sense of doom.

And that’s before we hit the films credit sequence scored to Johnny earth shakingly awesome “When The Man Comes Around.” Which cannily mixes real world newsfootage with staged zombie B roll until our world and the apocalypse become indistinguishable from one another. It’s a bone chilling bit of work, and for these fifteen minutes alone the film becomes worth reevaluating.

Somehow it’s even more disturbing in German.

Unfortunately once the mall is reached, theres not a whole hell of a lot that happens. As well as the claustrophobia and the intensity, the larger cast massacres a great deal of the film’s momentum as well. Dawn of The Dead keeps getting bogged down in meaningless subplot that goes nowhere after meaningless subplot that goes nowhere. Oh good! More storytime devoted to the asshole security guards power struggle. Man thank God that asshole security guard showed up because I would hate to be bored by such trivial things as THE WALKING FUCKING DEAD. Nope, Some redneck mall cop being a douche to everyone is all the drama I need.

The film has some fun moments, Ken Foree comes back to deliver his “No more room in hell.” line. There’s an intense battle in the sewers, and the scene where the characters stop to comment on what a badass Tom Savini is is pretty funny. The film picks itself up for a suitably intense finale, but it never really touches the intensity of the original ten minutes.

Perhaps the film didn’t lose its social satire so much as find a new target. It almost helps if you think of it, not as a remake of Dawn Of The Dead, but a prequel to The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman’s fantastic series, which takes the end of civilization as a chance to start following Thoreau. It’s boredom more then anything else that drives the patrons from the mall.

After all which would you rather do? Face the living dead? Or live in Starbucks for the rest of your life?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From your first sentence to your last paragraph, you couldn't have been any more wrong if you were actively trying.