Dawn of the Dead (2004)

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*. Pretty much everybody liked the way this movie started. When had we seen zombies taking over suburbia before? I’m not sure. Of course the presentation of the suburbs as hell has been with us for a while, but this is the first time I can remember seeing a full-fledged suburban apocalypse.

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*. And then there’s Sarah Polley, a surprising choice as lead in a zombie flick, but one that pays off. She’s the perfect blend of vulnerable (playing the first part of the film in bare feet and pyjamas) and independent. Polley has never gone mainstream in her career, and this movie is one of the few looks we’ve had at what she was capable of in such a role.
*. In 1978 it had to be explained what exactly an “indoor shopping centre” was. But in 2004 malls were on their way to becoming relics, victims of the shift to big box stores and online shopping. The mall this movie was filmed at, Thornhill Square Shopping Center in Ontario, was actually slated for destruction, which is how they got to shoot here.
*. Which is a way of saying that malls just aren’t that interesting any more. In the seventies they seemed like a fun place to hide out in. Now they’re tacky and monotonous. Yes, all the necessaries of life are provided for, even luxuriously so. Instead of a portable black-and-white television set propped up on a box you get a whole wall of home theatre entertainment. But despite the better lighting and upscale merchandise, it all seems generic and dull. A nice place to walk around window shopping for a few hours, but then you want to go home.
*. Today’s malls also undercut the satire on consumerism, as the modern mallwalker often isn’t into buying anything. That may be signaled here by the zombie behaviour. They don’t waltz around staring slack-jawed at the displays but just want to get the door-crasher specials.
*. There are other changes. The zombie outbreak is now the result of a virus. You don’t automatically come back to life as a zombie when you die, it takes a bite.
*. But the biggest difference is in the nature of the zombies themselves. They’ve obviously been working out and now they can run really fast and even swing from the ceiling.
*. And it’s not just that the zombies move faster, but the movie does too with the hyperspeed editing of videogames. Romero likes to have a lot of cuts, but this kind of filmmaking really marks a generational shift into the digital era.

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*. The zombie-baby sequence is disgusting, especially given the odd aquarium lighting, but it could have been even more extreme. Alien was almost a quarter century earlier. When you break it down, the gross-out factor here is kind of tame given what might have been done. It could have chewed its way out.
*. Is the first shot in the opening newsreel montage a bunch of zombies rioting in the streets? Urban violence? Cities on fire? A virus? Nope. It’s a mosque full of Muslims bowing in prayer. There’s the real enemy, the threat within. Homeland threat level raised to red! Ugh. What a painful and obvious jab of propaganda.
*. Given that Andy has a whole gun store and apparently unlimited ammunition, couldn’t he just kill all the zombies by picking them off from the roof? In the DVD extra featurette “The Lost Tape: Andy’s Terrifying Last Days Revealed,” Andy says that for every one he kills two more arrive, but this must be hyperbole and in any event can’t be extended indefinitely. I mean, there aren’t an infinite number of zombies out there. The actual number seems to fluctuate wildly, but I’d never put it above a thousand. That’s quite manageable.

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*. Chips is not a big dog. Why  not have a smaller doggy door? I mean, Ving Rhames has no trouble getting through it. Come on.
*. I really like the face off in the elevator with the doors automatically closing as the tense negotiations proceed. That’s a nice dramatic touch. One of very few.
*. Overall it’s not a bad zombie flick. I liked it better seeing it again on DVD then I did when it was first released. But despite the bigger budget and all the advances in effects it still doesn’t live up to the original, I think in part because it tried to be too faithful a remake (a reverence signaled by all the cameos). The mall is a less interesting environment than it was in the ’70s, and once they’re in there the cast has very little to do. In addition, the major plot points (the botched rescue of Andy, the escape to the island) are forced on us and don’t really make a lot of sense.

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