Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review: Terrific Tropes
“When the undead rise, civilization will fall.”
Synopsis: A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.
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Dawn of the Dead holds a special place in my movie cabinet and in my heart. Frequent readers will know about my general disdain for remakes, and how often I scoff at tropes without content. This trope-filled remake, however, manages to be noteworthy not only in spite of those things, but in many ways, because of them.
There are more zombie movies out there than I can name, and most of them are bad – or at the very least, not good. It often seems like there’s nothing more to say in such a well-represented subgenre. And in this case, it’s true: Dawn of the Dead doesn’t really break new ground. But where it stands apart from the pack is in how well it says all the old things – all the tropes and tricks we’ve come to expect from the zombie subgenre are brought to life here in a compelling, polished way.
During the early days of the zombie apocalypse, a diverse group holes up in a mall and bands together to survive. Characters are slightly less stereotypical than the average for horror movies, but more importantly, they all come across as people. It’s easy to feel for these characters and put yourself in their shoes – they are all very human and relatable. Watching the group tackle moral guidelines or try to entertain themselves feels very real, and it lends the movie an air of realism most zombie flicks lack.
Outside of the excellent characterization and strong interpersonal moments, Dawn of the Dead also makes a strong showing on the technical side. Makeup effects range from decent to good. Music, lighting, and sets combine again and again to ramp up tension and diffuse it, leaving the audience expecting just about anything. The mood of the movie is bleak, and by the end, the audience shares that less than optimistic outlook.
While it’s true that not much scares me anymore, I still find Dawn of the Dead a tension-filled exercise in suspense. Yes, it walks in footsteps that many many movies have trod before, but in the end, it’s an excellent example of the horror standards we’ve come to know and love. In the overwhelming body of remakes from 2000-present, this isn’t one you should overlook. Dawn of the Dead is a great modern zombie movie, and worthy of top billing on your next movie night.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B+
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