JUMPSCARECUT: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

Year: 2004
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Cast: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Ty Burrell, Lindy Booth

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

As a self-confessed wimp, I usually flat-out avoid all the spooky season shenanigans I see people partaking in. I mean, why would anyone choose to spend the whole month of October watching scary films and not being able to sleep!? But this year, I’m feeling a little braver than normal, and have volunteered to watch and review a handful of horror movies in the name of JUMPSCARECUT. First up is the 2004 remake of the classic Dawn Of The Dead, which as a fan of Zack Snyder and a tolerator of zombie horror, felt like a good place to start.

In many ways, this is pretty much your standard zombie-fare; a tale of survival in an apocalyptic world plagued by the flesh-eating undead. In typical horror movie fashion, our band of protagonist’s come from all walks of life, each bringing a different element to the group dynamic; from hard-knocks cop to playboy prick to amiable nurse, and we even get the added treat of a heroic canine and a pregnant Russian lady for good measure. Whilst this may all sound rather generic, it’s interesting that the actual zombies are kept at bay for much of the film, preferring to focus more on the tension, desperation, and moments of humanity between the survivors.

As an early-noughties horror flick, odds are that the acting will be pretty damn terrible, right? Well, that’s definitely true of some of the supporting players here, but for the most part, the main cast are actually rather impressive and very rarely cringe-worthy. Jake Weber and Sarah Polley lead the way with an endearing chemistry, and it’s a shame they’ve done very little in the film world since. The standout for me though, is Ving Rhames. From Pulp Fiction to Mission Impossible, I’m now starting to think Rhames may actually be a really great actor, and his turn here is one of brutish charm and stoic resolve. Another highlight is Ty Burrell – before Modern Family fame – playing a real asshole of a character who couldn’t be further from the Phil Dunphy we know and love. And you know what, even the zombie acting was pretty convincing, which is no mean feat.

Speaking of which, much of the special effects in use here are surprisingly decent, and combined with some fantastic make-up work, create an altogether impressive looking production. Zack Snyder‘s visual style is clear to see throughout, with sharp close-up shots, a splash of slow-mo and a fuckload of visceral violence. It’s interesting to work backwards from the grandeur of the likes of Watchmen and 300, and see Snyder tackling the horror genre in his earlier, more humble days. It’s a task he navigates with deftness, a self-conscious irony, and a finger firmly on the pulse of the humanity behind the horror.

Thankfully, this film is far from terrifying, instead providing ample entertainment, some cheap thrills and a couple of fun jump scares along the way. It’s a film which does very little wrong, at the same time as doing very little to go above and beyond the formulaic, well-trodden path of many before it. Where it succeeds in its characterisations and more tense moments, this remake does fall into the trap of predictability on more than one occasion, and suffers from a couple of ludicrous moments which you can’t help but laugh at. More hardened horror aficionados will most certainly be left wanting, but for this scaredy-cat, Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead was the perfect way to get in the spirit of things as Halloween approaches.

Jakob’s Verdict:

3