I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through this film again. Having not seen it in over a decade, all I could remember about it was the zombie baby and a couple of stupider moments in the film. I watched this film back in a time when I was just getting into zombies and something about them in the film bothered me. So having left a bad taste in my mouth and a sour memory I’ve never revisited it. Now having done so, I can’t really see what my issue with this movie is. Sure there is a handful of cheesy moments and a zombie baby. But the few inadequacies the film has, it more than makes up for it with some pretty great character moments and growth. Plus it features one hell of a great opening.
Dawn of the Dead (2004) opens with Ana (Sarah Polley) getting off a long shift at the hospital where she works as a nurse. She mentions that it’s strange that one of her patients from that night who was admitted with a bite has been moved to the ICU and a man with a bite on his neck is being wheeled into the emergency room as she’s leaving. She heads home, where she crawls into bed with her husband. Though while the two have a moment in the shower they miss the new bulletin about what’s going down and go to bed blissfully unaware. Ana’s husband wakes up in the early morning with the neighbors girl standing his doorway. When he asks if she’s alright, she moves into the light revealing a badly marred face. He rushes to her, only for her to bite a hold in his throat. Ana forces her off him and locks her out of the room, then turns her attention to trying to save her husband. Who bleeds to death, as she desperately tries to reach 911. Though he doesn’t stay dead, he rises and attacks her. But she manages to escape to the bathroom, then out the window. Outside the entire neighborhood is in chaos with cars burning and people being eaten in the streets. She manages to escape to the highway, but crashes her car after a man tries to steal it from her. She wakes up later to Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a Police Sargent pointing a shotgun at her. After proving she isn’t one of the infected the two head off, the come across other survivors Micheal (Jake Weber), ex-thug Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). The five of them head to the local mall to take refuge. Inside they’re again attacked with Kenneth getting cut and Luda, unknown to the others gets bitten. The group come across the mall security on the second floor led by CJ (Michael Kelly), with Bart (Michael Berry) and Terry (Kevin Zegers). The two groups get off to a rough start with CJ not wanting them to stay, but relents. Though he keeps them locked in one of the stores. This is until a truck shows up looking for help. CJ’s unwillingness to help leads to a coup and the new survivors consisting of Norma (Jayne Eastwood), Frank (Matt Frewer), his daughter Nicole (Lindy Booth), Tucker (Boyd Banks), Steve (Ty Burrell), Monica (Kim Poirier), Glen (R.D. Reid) and a heavy-set sick woman in a wheelbarrow (Ermes Blarasin), are allowed inside. Ana tends to their wounds, but focuses mostly on the sick woman. She has a massive infection stemming from a bite she received from one of the undead and after dying rises again. Though she quickly put down via poker to the eye. This leads Ana to the discovery of those who are bit get sick, die and rise again. Which is why she feels that it spread so fast. Which is bad news for Frank, as he was also bitten. Though he consents to being quarantined and put down after he turns. After Andre hears the news about the bites, he hides away Luda who’s been getting sicker and sicker…
This version of the film bares very little resemblance to the original. Other than being survivors in a mall during the zombie Apocalypse the two films couldn’t be any more different. Other than their focus on character growth over the actual zombies, though this version does spotlight them far more. The film has a lot of quiet moments, like all the characters sharing a meal and quizzing Micheal on what job he was best and worst at, given he had so many. The answers being Husband and Father respectively. This scene adds a great level of humanity to these characters and makes you like them and care for them. That way when they’re eaten alive you actually care.
Though the most humanizing moment actually comes from Frank and is one of my favorite scenes in the film. When he states before he dies that he wants every second. This was the only good scene that stuck with me and I was happy to see that it lived up to its memory.
The zombie effects this time around are just great. Easily among the best in the franchise, but with larger budgets come better effects. Which this film has a lot of, a lot. As each zombie has a unique look and eventually things start blowing up like a Micheal Bay film.
My main issue comes from the zombie baby, which if you feel is spoiler. I’m sorry it’s one of the most well-known parts of this film. I understand Andre and where the baby fits into the overall story, but it feels more stuffed in for shock value than it does for anything else. Well, and an easy way for them to start scrubbing out some characters from the bloated cast.
Final thoughts, its got a certain level of cheese and at times takes its self a little too serious. But it does manage to be a solid zombie film and a pretty OK horror film. Both steaming from the very likeable cast, save one or two characters you’re meant to hate. Zack Snyder did an excellent job in his directorial debut, taking an old film and giving a drastic overhaul for new audiences. 8/10