When there’s no more room in hell, you’ll find out what you’re really made of (or else the zombies will do it for you).
Ana (Sarah Polley) works in a hospital where, just the evening before, a few bizarre cases of patients being bitten were being looked into. Twenty-four hours later, the living are being overrun by the walking dead, and their numbers are growing. Taking refuge in the mall with a cop (Ving Rhames) and a host of other survivors, the shopping center seems like a paradise of material wealth and safety. But the televisions stations are going off one by one, the supplies are running out, and the zombies outside are growing in number; how long can the survivors last before the inevitable?
This, of course, is a remake of the 1978 classic film by George A. Romero. With studio backing and years of rethinking the scenario, this 2004 version succeeds in tightening up the running time from the lengthy original film while taking different philosophically directions. The success of the recent apocalyptic 28 Days Later certainly had plenty to do with getting this remake started, but the finished product thankfully draws more from the original source material while still improving upon the formula.
Everything that happens to the survivors and how they overcome those events is the new film’s bread and butter and will not be revealed here. What sets the new Dawn of the Dead apart is all the activity that’s going on in the background; explosions, wrecks, fires, and all sorts of terrible things that make people stare in disbelief thinking, “Did I just see that?” The entire film is a beautiful, apocalyptic nightmare no one ever thinks could happen so it’s safe to enjoy. The film also doesn’t let you in on all the rules: what turns someone into a zombie, does it kill them or do they have to die first, or if it’s just a blood infection that a single drop can cause. Don’t blink; you may miss something, but there’s plenty of false clues as well just to keep it interesting.
Watch for cameos by makeup artist extraordinaire Tom Savini laying down the law, Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer at the business end of a shotgun, and celebrity look-alikes being gunned down for amusement. In the original film, the survivors found a zombie-proof means of escape, assuming that it meant a happy ending (or at least a sequel). If that’s the ending for you, leave when the credits start to roll; if you want to know how everything really ends, stay right in your seats and enjoy. All in all, the result is crunchy zombie guilty-pleasure goodness!
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)