I've been nervous about this upcoming Dawn of the Dead remake. Real nervous. You see when the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, came out I was only mildly interested. TCM is a movie I enjoy and probably is one of the most influential films of the past twenty five years, but I'm not passionate about it. Sure, it’s a cool little film, but if the remake had sucked it wouldn't have been heart breaking (It was the first review I did for CB and I gave it a grudgingly positive review, based on the fact that it had the balls to at least try to be hardcore). However if Dawn of the Dead were to mess up, that'd be a horse of a different color. Texas Chainsaw Massacre I like. Dawn of the Dead I love. Its not only in my top five horror movies, its in my top five comedies, and top twenty movies of all time. The trailers did nothing to assuage my fear (unlike the excellent TCM trailer). I felt the movie was reaching for to much of a 28 Days Later vibe and wasn't doing its own thing. I also worried that the movie was effectively ham stringing itself by upping the main cast from four to twenty, with twenty people you have a society and all the deliciously dark bits where the survivors find themselves zombies themselves would be gone. The poster was cool but man I was worried. Oh yeah I was worried.
So, it is my extreme pleasure to announce that Dawn of the Dead does not suck. In fact it is quite good. Is it as good as the original? Oh lordy no. Is it better then the TCM remake? Yep. Is better then 28 Days Later? I'd have to say no, only because of the ground that 28 Days Later broke, and the excellent script and direction from Alex Garland and Danny Boyle.
What the movie gets right is horror. While not quiet as relentless or hardcore as the original, it compensates with big of set pieces that match anything done in recent years. The opening ten minutes is especially cool. The movie plays out like we are watching the infection happen in 28 Days Later, as opposed to viewing its aftermath. Anne wakes up to find her husband being attacked by a child zombie. As she runs out into the street she sees how intense the pandemonium is and takes an adrenaline pumping flight for survival. As I said, it never quite matches the level of tension from the SWAT scenes in the original or the tunnel scene in 28 Days Later, but it comes close enough to be earn the name.
What does suffer is character work. Mekhi Phifer is a pleasant surprise and is able to craft a respectably deep character in a man who desperately wants to create a future for himself and his girlfriend in a world that offers none. Sarah Polley plays confused and frightened well. Ving Rhames, as always, plays a terrific bad ass and his relationship with a man holed up in a neighboring gun shop is surprisingly touching. However, this still leaves a whole bunch of characters that we know nothing and care nothing about. That takes away much of the "becoming zombies themselves horror".
In the end though, Dawn of the Dead is a good one. It’s not great to be sure, but it is quite nice. It has the tension of the first one, an ending that's even bleaker, and if the satire is more subdued dark humor finds other ways to escape (Such as a living zombie head found in an unexpected place). While I'll definitely always prefer the original, the remake has earned its place in the dead series. Good show.