Monday, November 06, 2006
Dawn of the Dead
One of the theaters down my street showed this late in October, so Summerisle, I'mnotMarc and I got to see it on the big screen. The Dawn remake is one of those movies it's tough to sound eloquent about because it's just so damn awesome. I mean, just watch the quality build: Our introduction to the world of the movie is Sarah Polley -- rock. When the horror is introduced, it comes right into her bedroom on a sleepy morning, the place that should be safest of all. When she flees to the bathroom with her zombified husband coming after her, the thing she remembers to have in her hand are her car keys. Once outside, the madness beautifully unfolds from her front yard, across the street, down the block and through her neighborhood. Then we get that great super-wide shot of the city, with visible disaster spread near and far. Then Ving Rhames shows up. Score!
The success of this movie is down to a tasty mix of kinetic action and good attention to character. All the charm can be found in the little details: Near-zombified Matt Frewer saying "you want every fucking second," Andy the gun man holding up the smeared bloody sign after he's flipped over, or the reflective slo-mo shots of the three guys who have to wait in the chainlink cage while several manic, flaming corpses are futilely trying to get in and eat them. I imagined at least one of them thought "how is it that I wound up in Hell?"
This movie achieved what the Texas Chainsaw remake missed by only about three feet: to plant its own flag in the sand, to actually re-make something out of the original story. When that shopping mall rises into view, it's like the movie is saying "Eh? Eh? You scope that title? Dawn of the freakin' Dead, bitches!" and it can be that sassy because it's already won us over with the opening. There's one line I keep thinking of that personifies this flick's balls-out sincerity:
Bart (doofus security guard): You know what sucks? Remember that chick from Dairy Queen?
CJ: The fat one?
Bart: Yeah, she was coming over tonight. I would've tapped that shit for sure.
Terry: Bart, dude, everybody's dead, OK? Your mom's dead, your brother's dead, the fat chick at Dairy Queen... dead.
(Bart lies down to sleep, his head framed upside-down on the screen)
Bart: Yeah, that sucks too.
The fact that Bart starts the next day by strapping his gun over his boxer shorts before he puts on his pants just makes it even better.
Dawn '04 definitely owes some cred to 28 Days Later, first for the smart, quality move of making characters the number one priority, and second: fast zombies. I recall a lot of fast/slow zombie debate when this came out, and my conclusion is that I dig both kinds. The fast zombies in Dawn are ferocious, slavering beasts with sickly weird eyes and horrible screeches. As in 28 Days Later, it's terrifyingly likely that they'd gain the upper hand and never lose it.
With Romero's slow zombies, there's a haunting unearthliness to the lurching gait and the hollow, mournful sounds. Romero movies are always so fond of the zombie make-up, which is something I was happy to see carried over into Land of the Dead. With the Dawn remake, you never get a particular artfully decayed zombie like the baseball chick from Land with her cheek chewed off. As a matter of fact, the more the remake progresses, the more the zombies are shot as a wild, blurry menace.
Which is great! Romero's zombies are products of some metaphysical threat; Death itself is broken. Behind the physical threat of the walking dead, there lurks some cold, unseen force from parts unkown. The way slow zombies move communicates that, just as the hyperactive zombies of the remake reflect the more physical threat of that story. There are deaths in the Dawn remake that are not caused by zombie bites, and to Summerisle's delight, those people don't wake up (and I took an elbow jab). Like 28 Days Later, the threat comes in the form of some sort of communicable virus.
You could look at the updated approach as a reflection of the times: fear of biological contamination is a real thing, and so is fear of unchecked rage. "What can men do against such reckless hate?" says Theoden to Aragorn. It's scary stuff, and fast zombies are an excellent face for that fear. Of course, then Romero made Land and shot holes in my little theory, informing us that the worst thing your enemies can do is organize.
Zombies! It's weird, I thought I'd be as burnt out on zombie flicks as I am with Mad Hillbilly flicks, but I'm not. Dawn hits an amazing crescendo with the escape from the mall; the shot of those armored buses in the middle of the raging crowd has the iconic look of some famous b&w photo of a riot at a Rolling Stones concert. I've come to enjoy the inevitable triumph of entropy in these movies, and Dawn's daylight scenes of apocalypse are some of the grimmest, the most total. This is an exemplary zombie movie. It does credit to the original, and even some stuff on its own.
P.S. I know how to sail a boat.