Dawn of the Dead (2004) – 4.5 stars

Midnight Screaming: Dawn of the Dead (2004) | The Long Take

AMC’s The Walking Dead is successful in part for its visceral presentation of a dystopian United States where calamity has not only brought the dead to life, but those dead have pretty much overrun the country.  Even more disturbing, our cast of characters has learned that all living people carry the virus that will make them zombies hungry for flesh after they die, and that only a post-zombification destruction of the brain can stop their lust for humans.

Still, zombies in The Walking Dead are slow, near catatonic (though, like me passing a Chick-fil-A, they get more animated when near a meal).  If you stay in an open space or avoid them in bunches, you should be fine.  These zombies are like the walking dead in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978).  Don’t get in an elevator without knowing what’s on the other side of the door and you should be okay.

This is a trial for the show’s writers, who have to continually come up with scenarios where the protagonists and the zombies must come to close quarters (i.e., the group just wrangled with hundreds trying to clear them out from a prison that, if habitable, will be the perfect fortress).

No such problem for Zack Snyder’s (300, Watchmen) unappreciated remake of Romero’s film.  Nurse Sarah Polley and her husband wake up to see a little neighbor child at the foot of their bed.  Awww.  Sally is sleep walking again. Nope.  She’s a zombie and she’s fast and she strikes like lightning.

And away we go.  The zombies are like bullets, carbon copies of the victims of “the rage” in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.  The decision is brilliant, because now, it becomes plausible that zombies actually took over the world (a ridiculous notion if, to become zombies, they had to die, and then get up and move about at the speed of latter years Andy Griffith).  A motley crew of survivors, including Polley, Vingh Rames as a cop, Mekhi Phifer as a hood, Jake Webber as the conscience, and an impressive Michael Kelly as the security guard who traverses from self-interested and greedy to semi-heroic, hole up in the mall.  All is well until they try and help a man they can see from their binoculars and it goes poorly, to say the least.  What follows is a harrowing escape from a their breached fortress.

First time director Snyder makes his mark at the outset with an introduction showing the breakdown of society as scored by Johnny Cash

It’s a helluva a ride and has numerous touches that elevate the material.  I’ll list three.  First, the film has the guts to show us what happens to a baby in the womb if that womb belongs to a zombie.  Second, it can be very funny, one such moment being target practice on the top of the mall that becomes a competition to shoot Burt Reynolds:

Third, it features my favorite zombie ever

Ty Burrell of Modern Family.

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