One minute, everything's normal. The next, the world is in the grip of an apocalyptic plague, which sees the dead rise from the grave and attack the living, in ever-increasing numbers. A group of disparate survivors gather in a large shopping mall to try
When the announcement was made that Universal were "re-envisioning" George A. Romero's zombie horror classic Dawn of the Dead, it seemed ill-advised (and faintly sacrilegious). After all, remakes quite frankly suck, right? Well, not always. In fact, against all the odds, this gruesome, dark, relentless flick can take its place alongside the likes of John Carpenter's The Thing and Scorsese's Cape Fear in the remakes hall of fame.
Plotwise, we're on familiar ground - a group of survivors hole up in a shopping mall and try not to get eaten by zombie hordes. However, apart from a few token nods to the original (the odd cameo here; a re-staging of a minor sequence there), this is a very different beast. It's shorter, leaner, and meaner than Romero's film, and it almost completely jettisons Romero's satirical attack on consumerism and capitalism in favour of a streamlined series of tense setpieces. And for once, that's no bad thing.
Yes, there are too many characters (none of whom appear to have seen a zombie film), but standouts include Polley, Rhames' hard-nut cop, Weber's stoic good guy, and Ty Burrell's sardonic coward, who manage to generate genuine feeling with limited material, so that when some inevitably fall by the wayside, it has more impact than the usual bland teen horror fodder.
Like Romero's pulpy progenitor, there's a fair share of laughs, including a sequence where zombies are picked off from long distance based purely on their spurious resemblance to celebrities. Most of all, though, this is about zombie-crunching action, from the initial, tense opening - including a stunning pre-credits sequence in which we follow Polley through the beginnings of the unexplained plague - to a final kick-ass third in which our heroes load up with weaponry and souped-up trucks and head out to face the zombie holocaust.
It's here that the controversial decision to eschew the lumbering zombies of lore and go for fast-moving vicious bastards really pays off, generating a genuine sense of fear and revealing this for what it really is: a pared-down homage to Aliens. And a damn good one, too. The lack of truly gut-churning gore may alienate Romero fans, but if this allows the master to have his shot at making his fourth and final Dead film, that's no bad thing.
Coming so soon after the dull Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, this is a welcome surprise, containing more bona fide scares than Romero's vision, while paying grand lip service to the old master. Truly worthy of that famous title.