I usually find horror films to be fairly vapid experiences. All blood and no guts, if you take my meaning. When the word came down that George Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead was going to be re-made I didn't even have the heart to find contempt for it. While the original is not held close to my heart, it did have plenty to say about the consumerist mentality of the time. Or so I'm told.
Truth is I've never seen the original nor have I cared to. I've seen clips here and there and frankly it just never appealed to me. But I figured I may as well try out the remake if only because it was around Halloween and a stupid zombie flick struck me as a good thing to zone out to. If the entire film had been like the opening half hour, it would easily have been one of the best films of 2004. Right from the start, the new Dawn of the Dead is interested in only one thing: Thrilling you by any means necessary.
The sheer energetic fury of the opening half hour is stunning. Even throw-away moments, like the overhead helicopter shot following star Sarah Polley's car where she barely avoids an explosive wreck, are infused with such vivid passion that I found myself slack-jawed at the sheer audacity of it all. It's awesome how the film throws in little details here and there about the coming apocalypse, then mixes in complete normalcy of everyone's lives. When all hell breaks loose it feels like the entire world has gone insane overnight and it's magnificent. Then the main characters get to the mall and the film came to a screeching halt.
It's never explained as to what exactly causes people to turn into ravenous zombies, nor is it explained as to why they would turn up at a mall by the thousands. But all that is alright so long as we have characters that are interesting and believable. Unfortunately, Ving Rhames is the lone person who fits in this category. Polley is a terrible actress who flat-out annoys me. I hated the entirety of Go for about a hundred different reasons but she was in the top three. She's equally awful here and never conveys anything other than freaking out or completely emotionless.
The rest of the cast barely register save for the head security guard of the mall. Even when they bring in several more people and turn the mall into a mini-commune all we get a sense of is a group of people surrounded by a world gone mad. You never appreciate each individual regardless of the occassional slight detail thrown in because there's jack worth of character development. It speaks volumes when one of the most compelling characters is the one who communicates via holding up white boards (he's trapped across the street from the mall).
There are a few outright shockers towards the end but otherwise things start falling apart around the middle. When we start spending time with the characters and all of them are boring the movie slows to a crawl which is in direct contrast to the manic energy of the opening. Even towards the end that energy is almost wholely absent which is a huge disappointment. I think director Zack Snyder has a solid future ahead of him, and I'm practically drooling thinking about his next project 300 come March, but he needs to work on his pacing.