Director: Zack Snyder
Writer: James Gunn; based on Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero
Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti
Producer: Richard P. Rubinstein, Marc Abraham, and Eric Newman
by Jon Cvack
The film starts back up after the accident. Ana exits and meets police officer Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames) who leads her through a bike tunnel before they bump into another armed trio - a middle-aged television salesman Michael (Jake Weber), an armed gangster Andre (or so it’s suggested; Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina). Hall wants to go to find his brother at Fort Pastor; but the others warn against it, as all the other towns have been overrun. Instead they’re heading to the mall.
Inside they’re greeted by a trio of security guards - Terry (Kevin Zegers) and another character/actor I cannot seem to find (even after going through the extensive list on Wikipedia), led by C.J. (Michael Kelly) who refuse to let in any more members in their faction; taking them as captives and imprisoning them in one of the department stores. Terry begins to doubt the strategy. Michael Kelly plays the perfect smart asshole (not to be confused with a smart ass) who goes through a wonderful arc; from complete slime to a reliable friend who sacrifices himself for the others. It’d be so easy for the role to have been generic and amoral, but rather Kelly creates a complex character, managing his fear the best he can; as though an aspiring cop who might either be on the verge of the police academy, or had one too many screws loose when testing to get in.
Soon, after seeing a van with people in need. C.J. refuse to accept them until Ana and the others retrieve the guns and rush to help the others. Another caravan enters, including an actual smartass and rich shob Steve Marcus (Ty Burrell ), his hot and soon to be mistress Monica (Kim Poirier), a closeted gay man Glen (R. D. Reid), and a sick older woman Norma (Jayne Eastwood), along with a bitten father and his daughter who provide the film’s first somewhat interesting moral dilemma - being only 99% sure of a bitten person turning into a zombie, should they kill them?
They imprison the security guards back in their office and soon take over the mall; providing the fantasy I’m sure most everyone imagines would be the greatest part - able to take and use whatever you want, with enough space to live the hedonistic life you desire.
The mall provides an accessible metaphor to any discussion. Even as a teenager, I recall discussing the generic idea with friends. People are drawn to the mall by their instincts, driven by their hunger to consume, and the zombies, driven by an insatiable hunger for flesh, knows it’s exactly where to find them. It’s a bizarre symbol - as it operates as both a grand comment and a logical action; both for the people to go and for the zombies to arrive.
Yet even if there were decades worth of food and water, or even sex, I was left wondering how long it’d be until boredom kicked in; when characters like C.J., Glen, and Hall will never get to have anyone. How long would they stay put before wanting to see what else was out in the world that could provide them meaning?
Parallel to the story, though told through an obtuse plot, Frank and Luda live quietly in a back room of one of the department stores. Luda has become increasingly sick and all the closer to delivering her child. By labor, Luda has fully transformed into a zombie as Frank has constrained her in the hopes of delivering the baby. He succeeds, though unfortunately it’s a zombie infant, and when the caravan’s truck driver discovers the site, she shoots Luda dead, causing Frank to open up. The two kill each other, leaving the baby to be discovered and killed by the others.
During the infanticide, the power goes out, leaving C.J., Michael, and the actor I can’t seem to find to head into a parking garage to reset the generator. They discover a friendly and healthy dog before a platoon of zombies chase them down, which they soon burn alive.
Hammond’s one close buddy is a fellow marine Andy across the street. The two communicate via binoculars and a whiteboard. When Andy says he’s running low on food, they decide to send the dog over with some food; though the dog’s closest - and obsessive - owner is the daughter who lost her father, who doesn’t want him to die.
Nevertheless, they send the dog over and the girl takes the caravan truck to chase him down; an action that is the film’s greatest weakness, as aside from the cool sequence to rescue the girl, I just couldn’t fully buy someone so fully willing to risk their own life for a dog they’ve known for a couple weeks. It like it could have worked just as well if they went over to rescue both the dog and an unbitten Andy, who then could have fallen like the guy who’s name I can’t find does, all in the spirit of one last courageous save. Better than allowing the film to take out the character I can’t name.
Either way, the tragedy claims the closeted gay man’s life as well, and the group decides that it’s better to try and take Steve’s yacht to an island somewhere in Lake Michigan. They’ll armor up a couple of mall shuttles and head to the marina in the hopes of reaching the boat and sailing off to safety. Now aside from the glaringly obvious question of how they plan to exactly feed themselves by living on a small island off Lake Michigan (I guess I’m willing to believe they might one day do supply missions back to the mainland), this is an amazingly cynical move by the film. Aside from leaving the characters to live happily ever after in the mall, ultimately it does seem like the smarter solution that has posed little risk since they arrived; if not for anything else beyond the massive S.O.S. painted on the mall’s roof, which - unless every human in the area died - seems an inevitable solution to their problem, requiring patience, if nothing else.
I also think this might have been the filmmakers’ cynical intention; as their attempt to escape from the mall results is their doom, reflected in the brilliant closing credit sequence. They head out by shuttle, attempting to drive through an army of thousands of zombies, all determined to eat their flesh, and requiring C.J. to throw a propane tank bomb into the crowd to help them drive forward. It works and they cruise on, but one of the vans tips and in a matter of moments, everyone except the daughter, Terry, Steve, and Ana reach the boat; even Michael is forced to stay back, having been bitten while helping the others escape.
They take off and it cuts to black, and seconds later, the film cuts into a found footage short; where someone finds Steve’s old camcorder; filming the crew as they run out of water and food, finally reaching the island, believing they're safe, until a mass of zombies comes out of the woods; killing them all an ostensibly ending any chance for a sequel. The $25 million movie earned over $100 million, and yet there was never a follow-up. Nevertheless, it was a rare definitive ending, in a series that thrives on leaving just enough room for one more.
While I had my doubts for a few years, I’m swinging back to thinking this is one of the greatest remakes of all time - up there with Oceans Eleven, The Thing, coincidentally, 2018’s A Star is Born which I just saw hours before finishing this up. It’s a display of Snyder’s once reserved talent, in which he instead relied on an exciting action-horror story that could get by with minimal CGI (thank God) and great set pieces, and a grainy/sick feel that I failed to notice any the previous times watching it (I now want to blame my old roommate and I's shitty Westinghouse TV for the poor experience). I still think its Snyder’s best work, and I'm left wishing he’d come back for a Day of the Dead remake. It’s one of the 00s greatest horror films, and definitely in my top fifteen, possibly top ten, of all time. Give it a few years, and the cheeseball effects and music soon seem vintage and cool.
BELOW: Full cylinder horror
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