Director: Zack Snyder. Universal/Strike/New Amsterdam/Metropolitan/Toho-Towa et al (18)
Cast & credits
Producers: Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Richard P. Rubinstein.
Writer: James Gunn.
Camera: Matthew F. Leonetti.
Music: Tyler Bates.
Sets: Andrew Nestoromny.
Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Jayne Eastwood, Boyd Banks, Inna Korobkina, R.D. Reid, Kim Poirier, Matt Frewer, Scott H. Reiniger, Tom Savini, Ken Foree.
Nurse Ana (Polley), after a gruelling shift due to a series of sudden and inexplicable attacks in which humans start biting other people, settles down to a relaxing weekend. The peace is disturbed when her husband is fatally bitten by their neighbour’s child. When he returns from the dead and tries to kill Ana, she narrowly escapes to join cop Rhames and a small group of people running from the seemingly crazed and murderous population of their Mid-Western town. They hide out in an abandoned mega-mall to decide on their next steps: fight or flight.
Now that The Walking Dead has made zombie horror de rigueur again in mainstream entertainment, it’s funny to think (at least for a fan of such films) of a time when there was a regrettable dearth of them on not only TV screens but also at the multiplexes too. But this, a remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 original, helped cement the resurgence of interest in the sub-genre, with a big name cast and healthy $28 million budget that Romero could only have dreamed of back in the day, following the runaway success of the British made horror 28 Days Later (2002).
In a bid to hark back to these illustrious foundations, the producers saw fit to cast the two main stars of the original Dawn…film, Reiniger as an army captain interviewed on TV and Foree as doom-prophesying TV evangelist. Interestingly, this film version focuses on a black character as the central hero of the piece (Romero’s used a tag team of white and black actors). There is also a cameo for Tom Savini, the make-up artist on the earlier Romero pictures.
The renaissance has thus continued, even Romero made three extra movies after a long hiatus (the well made Land of the Dead, 2005 and the less successful Diary of the Dead, 2007 and finally Survival of the Dead, 2009).
In this film, the coy, biting social satire that marked the best of Romero’s efforts gives way for character analysis, plot development and thrills for a film that is conceptually a few steps ahead of its loping, groaning forbears. There is no space for complacency or relaxation – the first overt bloodletting, involving a previously adorable little girl chomping on the neck of a grown man, occurs five minutes into the the piece. This comes immediately after an intimate and romantic shower for Polley and her husband, the sweetly loving and protective overturned by fevered cannibalistic devouring.
If the A-Team style bus pimping sequence feels like a slightly silly step too far, it at least allows for some glorious zombie (and people) chain-sawing action and an awesomely pumped escape scene.
There is still room for some social commentary. One character notes on seeing TV news footage outside their hermetically sealed mall that “America always cleans this shit up”, further underlining their isolationist stance and, perhaps, the sensibility of many Americans themselves when seeing the reporting of international events.
This mall itself is called the ‘Crossroads’ mall, noting in name the turning point being faced by these radically different people. The muzac buzzing over the tannoy includes the song ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin, an ironically soothing melody.
The swipe at mass consumerism that Romero wove neatly throughout his film merely has lip service to it here during a brief discussion, but the design and props that make up the mall are incredibly well realised, plush and smart. A coffee shop is called Hallowed Grounds and it’s grand entrance resembles a cathedral that the dead flock to, perhaps in reference to the Foree’s comments that when there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth. Here, the production design is paramount and central to this film’s success.
The performances are tough and resilient (Rhames) and, in Burrell’s case, enjoyably sarcastic. Polley displays admirable muscle as a resourceful leading lady, but would go on to find more artistic fame on the other side of the camera, as director of films such as the award winning Away From Her (2006).