Dawn of the Dead

In math class, they teach you that formulas and patterns make up the entire world you live in. From the car you drive to the chair you sit in, x squared * y + 2πr = z to the nth is just important as the air you breathe, in the grand scheme of things. The world would cease to exist without mathematics. And so would gory zombie flicks. Back in 1968, George A. Romero made “Night of the Living Dead” about an outbreak of radiation that brings the dead back to life, thirsty for human flesh. He followed with “Dawn of the Dead” and then “Day of the Dead,” spawning a thousand copycat zombie flicks for generations to come. His basic formula still holds up today: a mysterious element causes the dead to rise, eat the living, making more zombies, forcing the few survivors to hole up somewhere and hatch a clever plan to escape + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore + gore.

Many sequels and updates of the original Dead series have been made in the past three decades, the most recent being a Dawn of the Dead remake by Universal Pictures, starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Mekhi Phifer. Newcomer Zach Snyder directs the picture penned by Scooby-Doo scribe James Gunn, who makes it blatantly clear that he thinks he is far too good to be doing a script about zombies, but somehow fails to bring anything new or exciting to the table.

We start off in the home of our hero, Ana (Polley), a nurse and loving wife (who, in a brilliant use of foreshadowing, tells us she is afraid of malls) is attacked by her zombie husband. She flees the house and meets up with Kenneth (Rhames) and several other survivors on the run. They find sanctuary from the swarms of flesh-eaters in the local mall where three gangsters have already chosen it as their home. Shortly after their arrival, a semi truck full of survivors makes a run for the mall and adds to the already dismal situation. Inside, they make the mall their home, but it is only a temporary solution. Before long the power goes out, their ammunition dries up, and what food the mall has inside runs out. To make matters worse the zombies keep getting smarter and smarter, finding new ways to breach the security of the powerless mall. Realizing that they are nothing more than sitting ducks, the remaining crew hatches a plan to bust out of the mall and hightail it towards a deserted island, crossing straight through a figurative sea of zombies.

Every type of gory act of violence is covered in this blood fest. Zombies don’t die when you kill them. They just keep coming back no matter how many times you shoot them or run over them, until there is nothing left, but the folks in the mall keep on trying. The zombies, much like lemmings, blindly follow the scent of living flesh, but each round finds new ways to get around the obstacles in front of them. As a result, more and more of the group of survivors are picked off, scene by scene, bite by bite. It’s sad and moving when you realize that there will be no more Heavyset Man or Goth Girl. Catholic Priest and Hippie Woman also fail to make it to the end, in fact, no one without a real name seems to last all that long. The lucky ones, with names like Steve and Michael, as well as Ana and Kenneth, put together two mall shuttles and reinforce them as great arks (aptly names the Pinta and St. Maria) to carry them to the New World. These things never go smoothly though, and the body count doubles as they venture out into the swarm in the final act of the movie.

You expect a movie like this to follow the classic formula, which calls for light usage of character and plot and a heavy amount of violence and ridiculous scenarios, but even for a zombie flick, there is sick amount of gore and atrocity throughout the film. In one scene a pregnant woman bears a zombie child which in turn eats its mother and father. Gunn repeatedly tries to push the already over-stretched boundaries of zombie gore to the limits, in some desperate attempt to separate his work from his predeccesors, but it just comes off as cliched and puzzling as ever. Dawn of the Dead will be a delight for fans of the Zombie/Horror genre and will likely improve the aesthetics with high tech CGI zombies in place of the original globs of makeup. Still, it will take more than some flashy modern update to cement Dawn of the Dead into the annals of movie history.

Rating: C-