Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead is the latest entry in the much maligned horror genre. Yet, there is something different about this movie. For one, indie star Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me, The Event) stars here. The fact that she chose this film hints that there is probably something better about it than most of the other junk that passes for horror. And there is. This is a remake of George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead, which was about a group of people holed up in a mall to escape from hordes of mindless zombies (yes, that is redundant). Romero added in a lot of biting social commentary about mindlessness and mall/consumer life, and his ability to juxtapose this with humor and horror is what made his film so memorable. This new version does a decent job of updating an older film for modern times in that it throws out any sense of intelligence and focuses more on updated special effects. The satire is gone, but this is actually a decent zombie flick.

Like the recent 28 Days Later, all of the zombies in Dawn of the Dead run. They are not the old-fashioned, lumbering mindless freaks. These zombies sprint at their victims and pose a real danger (since people cannot simply sidestep them). And most importantly, all of the human characters are not dumb teenagers. This is the most important element that makes Dawn of the Dead above average. Where most horror films are full of young attractive unknowns, some of the actors here have pretty impressive resumes. This is a varied group of thinking, functioning individuals. They want to survive, and their decisions reflect this. The fact that they have a modicum of intelligence makes the inevitable internal strife seem all the more plausible. It's amazing how far a little thought into a story can go. Screenwriter James Gunn (Scooby-Doo, The Specials) throws in a bunch of moments to make people jump and occasional doses of humor to keep things moving.

And like these zombies, the pace of Dawn of the Dead is quick. It begins with Ana (Polley), a nurse who is dead tired from her shift and misses lots of important things happening around her. The next morning, she wakes up to mayhem around her. She quickly escapes and meets Kenneth (Ving Rhames, Dark Blue, Lilo & Stitch), a police officer, Andre (Mehki Phifer, Honey, 8 Mile), the pregnant Luda (Inna Korobkina, How to Deal, The Ladies Man), and Michael (Jake Weber, The Cell, U-571). They make their way to the Crossroads Mall, where all the doors are locked providing an effective barrier against the ever-increasing hordes of zombies. Surprisingly, there is soon an infusion of new people into the mall. In the end, most of them end up as zombie fodder, but the fact that there are more people each with distinct personalities is something new and different.

Is Dawn of the Dead a great movie? By no means. But it knows what its audience wants, and director Zack Snyder does an effective job of keeping things moving quickly. Snyder has a background in commercials, so he knows how to convey ideas quickly. Dawn of the Dead doesn't give the viewer that much time to pause and think, because every time it does slow down, something happens to get things in motion again. Basically, this is a pretty fun horror movie. It doesn't fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously or playing up the jokes too much. People like Rhames and Polley give it a credibility it probably doesn't deserve. People who watch it will probably forget most of it shortly after leaving theaters, but it's a nice way to pass the time.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language, and sexuality.

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