175 – Dawn of the Dead

Pardon my impertinence, but aren’t zombie movies supposed to be scary? Or are they supposed to be funny? After watching this remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 thriller (itself a sequel to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead), I’m all confused.

To sum up, some kinda plague thingy breaks out, turning nearly everyone into jibbering idiots. After a while, it’s hard to tell which ones are zombies and which ones have simply been watching too much election coverage. All heck breaks loose. Loved ones are killing each other. Little kids, too. Everyone’s gone all higgledy-piggledy.

A hardy bunch of survivors makes its way to the most American of inventions, the shopping mall. They have all they need – food, shelter, TVs, XBoxes, and a zillion zombies patrolling outside the mall, desperate to get in and feast on the nice, fresh meat.

Lemme stop for a minute here and wonder out loud. (Note: This is a rhetorical question.) Why do zombies need fresh meat? Why can’t they just feast on each other, or even themselves? Would they even notice if they bit their own hand off, for example? (Okay, that was three rhetoricals.)

So our intrepid gang barricades itself inside the mall. But they soon want to get out. They’re holding out hope that somewhere out there, there’s someone who’s not quite dead yet. You know, somewhere where the zombies haven’t quite taken over. Like Canada, or something. But we the viewers know better, don’t we? This is as good as it gets, staying in a mall all the time. If it were me, I don’t know if I’d ever leave.

But oh, those nutty survivors. They’re communicating with the crazy cat a building or so over via sandwich board, playing chess long distance and the like. We see all kinds of fun and exciting activities, all set to a peppy song, whose name and beat I have conveniently forgotten for all eternity.

So they want to get out. Their plan is to commandeer two of the mall’s shuttle buses, fortify the crap out of them, and off they go. Well, bad things happen. The end.

This movie failed for me because at no point was I scared. I didn’t jump out of my seat, or even shudder. Sure, there’s gore, but it’s pretty mundane. If you’ve seen one head explode, you’ve seen ’em all. (Oddly enough, when someone shoots a zombie in the head late in the movie, Ving Rhames is inexplicably impressed.) Movies like this need to have a strong sense of reality; the viewer must be able to imagine that this is happening Right Now, outside his or her own door. And this movie utterly failed to do so for me, which made it take on a surreal and ultimately comic sheen.

The acting’s no prize, either. I know these guys had little interesting or unique to say, but I felt little sympathy for them regardless – and that’s the actor’s job. Convey to me how awful your situation is. I wasn’t openly rooting for the zombies, but sometimes I felt like it.

One final nitpick – the ending credits sequence contains footage of What Happens Next. It’s very, very jarring; credits are shown on a red background, then there’s a quick cut to video, then back to the credits, on and on and on. Distracting and pointless.

Dawn of the Dead: **

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