Retro Review | Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Retro Review | Dawn of the Dead (2004)

As Snyder’s Army of the Dead is unleashed on Netflix, I revisited his earlier zombie film, Dawn of the Dead

For a while, in the first half of the 2000s, we had a short spell where the zombie film had made a small comeback.

28 Days Later by director Danny Boyle envisioned the zombie outbreak from a British perspective. Who can forget those opening shots of Cillian Murphy walking around the deserted streets of London.

We also got another very funny British take on the zombie feature with the excellent comedy Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright.

Finally, we also received a remake of one of the classic zombie films, Dawn of the Dead. Originally written and directed by the man who many consider the zombie master, George A. Romero, this was originally released in 1978.

The new remake was under the helm of first time director Zak Snyder, also, the screenplay was written by James Gunn.

James would later go onto to direct the Guardian of the Galaxy films as well as the upcoming Suicide Squad. But in 2004, Dawn of the Dead was receiving some shtick before release as he was primarily known for writing the screenplay for the live action Scooby-Doo.

The new Dawn of the Dead comes at you hard and fast by laying down the groundwork incredibly quickly.

We are introduced to Ana who works as a nurse, we see her coming home from a very long shift.

She travels home to her husband, Louis, and whilst having an intimate moment they miss an emergency broadcast on the television.

The next morning, a young girl from the neighbourhood is standing in their bedroom doorway. When Louis goes to investigate, she violently attacks him and takes a huge chuck out of his neck.

Who will make it to the end of the film?

Ana closes and locks the door, keeping the young girl at bay, and tries to save her husband. Before she can do anything, he dies and then reanimates as one of the undead and tries to kill her.

She escapes through the bathroom window, makes it to the car and drives through her residential estate bearing witness to the chaos that is unfolding around her.

You know in these reviews I like to give you the start of the plot to get you interested in the film? What I have described to you is just the opening ten minutes! This version of Dawn of the Dead isn’t waiting around.

It’s also worth noting that this intro lays down one big important rule about the flesh eaters in this film, they are fast! They are not the slow, shuffling creatures of the original films.

Ana will meet up with a cop, a TV salesman and a young couple who are expecting a baby. After realizing they aren’t going to make it far on foot, they head for the nearest mall where the majority of this story will play out.

One of the best aspects of this story is that you’re never really sure who is going to make it until the end. Even though I had seen the film on its original theatrical run, it has been over fifteen years and I had forgotten almost everything making this repeat viewing quite enjoyable.

There are some moments when I was screwing up my face in confusion because I didn’t really understand some characters motives. Would you risk almost certain death to rescue a dog?

The cast of the film are pretty good, and it’s certainly a collection of, “Oh I know that guy!” kind of actors.

Matt Frewer, who I know as Edison Carter/ Max Headroom, makes a short appearance but its barely used, and I would have liked to seen more.

On the other hand, I was surprised to see Ty Burrell, who to me is the loving and slightly dim father from the successful sitcom Modern Family. So, it took a little while to get used to him as a sarcastic man who only ever looks out for himself and never helps out.

These zombies are FAST!

Ving Rhames is the biggest name to lead the cast but even then, I wasn’t 100% sure if he was going to survive until the end either.

Zak Snyder’s love of slow-motion sequences can be found in this directorial debut. During the shoot-outs with the zombies you can be sure to find slow motion sequences of bullet shells and spent weaponry hitting the floor.

Plus, you can tell that back in 2004, this was done the old-fashioned way by over cranking the camera as the picture has a certain look which will disappear in later films when the effect is achieved digitally.

The zombie effects look mostly practical and don’t worry, plenty of blood and internal fluids are flying around in this film. This will be sure to keep the die hard horror fan satisfied.

The only real problem I had with Dawn of the Dead was the picture itself. It was as if the brightness had been turned down just a bit too much and the contrast had been pushed in the opposite direction.

This caused the image to be too dark for me in some scenes with image detail lost to the boosted contrast in others. Maybe it’s just me, but I wanted to grab a remote and fix it as if it was the televisions’ problem.

Dawn of the Dead is an entertaining couple of hours of film involving zombies and that’s coming from someone who generally doesn’t care too much for that genre as a whole.

Of course Zak Snyder moved onto bigger projects, I’ve just got to find the four hours to watch Justice League now…

3 out 5

A thoroughly decent zombie action film marred only by strange character choices and the directors artistic vision.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.