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Spooktober Review: “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)

Zombie Triple Feature: Part One

Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.

This movie will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first horror movie… because my dad decided it was fine to watch with his eight-year-old son in the room.

In Zack Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s classic, Milwaukee nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) seeks refuge at the local mall after the undead outbreak. There she is joined by Ken (Ving Rhames), Michael (Jake Weber), Head of Mall Security C.J. (Michael Kelly), and other survivors. Together, they try to survive humanity’s last days in the comfort of the mall. A third-act breakout propels the characters out of the mall in a bombastic finale, which would become a staple in Snyder’s subsequent films.

This is a weird movie to watch in 2018: it’s Snyder’s directorial debut, it features the second script written by James Gunn plus an early role from Ty Burrell, and it was filmed at a time when Nu-metal band Disturbed was relevant. None of these people continued in the horror genre (except Gunn, who made Slither).

First off, it features my favourite Ving Rhames performance in any film. Think Marcelles Wallace mixed with Luther Sitwell, but lacking any sense of self-awareness those roles have. Rhames just brings a certain unintentional comedy to the role that without which the film would be lesser.

Spoilers for Dawn of the Dead.

But the plot goes nowhere. The film’s first 20 minutes build and maintain great tension until they reach the mall. Then, almost nothing of merit happens in the second act. We’re introduced to a literal truckload of characters, who mainly serve as red shirts and to keep the characters from leaving in search of another safe haven. The third act is propelled by cinema’s worst decision in a movie ever: a character drives a truck through the zombie horde to rescue a dog the audience was introduced to moments prior, and this alone forces the remaining characters into action. The film attempts a heartbreaking ending with a main character death, but it isn’t earned and ends up just coming off as laughably melodramatic.

So, why do I love this movie? Well, Snyder’s fast zombies and exciting action make it one of the best modern zombie horror movies. Slow zombies never scared me because something one can escape at brisk pace doesn’t generate a sense of urgency. Snyder’s are ravenous and relentless. The action in the movie is really well done and adds excitement into the plot. Bottom line: it has a series of good to great elements mixed in with the bad ones, but I feel the former outshines latter.

I’ve re-watched this movie every Halloween season since I was 13 years old. Frankly, I can’t get into the “Spooktober” spirit without it.

I know I’m blinded by nostalgia. I know this film hasn’t aged well. I know there are other movies that are better worth your and my time. However, in days when mental illness has robbed you of a lot of things, isn’t it nice it to be eight years old again?

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