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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Zack Snyder 2004

When there's No More Room in Hell, Horror Films will Look Like Gatorade Commercials.

I realize that I am up against some tough opposition here: Roger Ebert, The Flick Filosopher, and just about everyone I know really liked this movie. So whether I'm being contrarian, or too critical, or just a bit of a cunt, I can in all honesty say:

I did not like this movie.

I will now offer all arguments as to why I really should have liked this movie, and will then systematically swat them out of the air with the flair of a Julia Sugarbaker 3rd-act monologue and reduce my detractors to quivering mounds of lovepudding.

1) The sissies turned out in droves. True, I live in New York City, so you can't swing a cat without hitting a faggot or two (or perhaps the lesbians who owned the cat). But when we attended the screening on Saturday afternoon my friends and I racked our brains trying to figure out why an army of gay men turned out to see this film. It was remarkable: viscera on the screen, sissies at the snack bar. Bullets in the air, sissies in the front row. You'd think that Cher had a cameo (insert Cher/zombie comparison HERE). Was it the kitch-factor? Was it hopes of high camp? Was it the staggeringly handsome Ving Rhames? In the end, the answer was clear to me: this film, after all, is about shopping.

That said, the reasons for fags to flock to this film are plenty. For one, it takes place in a shopping establishment, although the real estate that would be really ripe for satire here (Aberzombie and Fitch, for example) is notably absent. In fact, the film may has well have just taken place at a Starbucks, seeing as how half of the damn thing takes place around a coffee bar. Latte queens across the globe will eek in utter glee when they see how much time is spent with one or more character hunkered over a barista station.

For another, every man in the film (the likeable yet painfully water-retentive Mr. Rhames included) wears cap-sleeve t-shirts to showcase his bulging biceps and is impossibly tan for a Wisconsin suburb. I spent half of the film looking at my watch, the other half staring at bronzed, beefy forearms. Forearms that reached out to embrace me. Forearms lightly dusted with soft, downy hair. Forearms...

Yes, there's lots to look at in this one: the guys are an assortment of handsome ranging from cutesy (the sweet security guard Terry, played by Kevin Zegers of Wrong Turn) to full-on Leather Daddy (the annoying security guard CJ, Michael Kelly), with a cute married guy (Wendigo's Jake Weber), a handsome and hot-headed young black guy (Mekhi Phifer) and a smarmy but angular metrosexual (Ty Burrell) mixed in for variety. For those of us into near-inbred trailer trash, there's yet another security guard, and anyone who's ever had a fetish for the Fraggle Rock Trash Heap will simply swoon over Rhames, who has swelled to alarming proportions and looks constantly ready to rupture or vomit, depending on the lighting.

Anyway, there's men. Oddly, though, none of the characters is gay, even though two of them really should be: Terry, the sensitive security guard (he's even called "faggot" by the inbred one), and Steven, the rich asshole, who delivers his bitchy lines like a pre-menstrual Jm J. Bullock until he is revealed to be straight in a disturbing and completely out-of-place sex scene. I was shocked when each of these men was outed as a heterosexual -- in fact, these were probably the most shocking moments in an otherwise run-of-the-mill, over-stylized, self-consciously funny big-budget horror action movie.

2) It's very gory. There are gallons of blood and brains on every imaginable surface: concrete, linoleum, marble, porcelain, tile, hardwood, skin. But honestly, none of it really gets to you; the Texas Chainsaw remake had none of the gore but a ton more impact, in terms of sheer unpleasantness. This is funny, popcorn splatter -- nothing that's going to get under your skin. And if you like your horror movies to be fun (which I really don't, I guess), then this'll be a great, gory time. But if you're looking for something to actually scare you, the 2 seconds of the Taking Lives preview where the guy gets thrown in front of the speeding car is 10 times more disturbing than anything you'll see here (as is, for that matter, any given scene from Baby Geniuses).

Things start out promisingly enough: Ana (Sarah Polley) is a hard-working nurse trying to keep things together with her loving husband in their nice little house in the suburbs. Of course, after they watch American Idol, fuck, and fall asleep, the world goes to hell in a handbasket and zombies overrun the country and invade their house. Her husband is chewed up by the little neighbor girl and comes back instantly as an angry ghoul, and and Ana is barely able to cleverly escape out the bathroom window and drive out of the chaos of her once-idyllic neighborhood into the safety of a drivers-side airbag -- when she not-so-cleverly crashes her car into a tree (not even a zombie tree, just a regular tree.). Cue credits.

At this point, I was still in the game. The opening presents a nice sense of slowly growing menace (patients are arriving in the hospital with strange symptoms but nothing has reached critical mass so there's no real concern yet) that becomes full-on terror when dawn breaks. But already I get the sense that the filmmakers don't trust us: there's a tendency to overcut and overscore (the music cues are horrible and telegraph every action: apparently, contemporary horror audiences are too stupid to be left to their own imaginations and need to be told that things are going to be scary with obvious music) and there are some comedic elements that seem a little out-of-place to me (in the action scenes, that is). But I'm still there.

Ana meets up with Kenneth (the Trash Heap) in a runoff tunnel and they soon come across Michael (Jake Weber), Andre (Mekhi Phifer), and Andre's probably Russian and improbably pregnant girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina, who has about as much place acting in this film as I would have acting in The Trojan Women). They break into a mall -- for no apparent reason -- and are soon surrounded by zombies who are trying to get in for double-coupon day at Chik-Fil-A.

And this is where things really start to fall apart. The thing is, if you're gonna set a movie in a mall, and make the point that these people are trapped for god-knows-how-long, you need to make the mall a character. Or at least interesting. Besides being completely devoid of any recognizeable stores (it looks like a souped-up version of the utterly generic department store from Today's Special), it's not used at all as much as it could. Remember in Night of the Comet when the survivors crash the mall and have a shopping spree, reveling in their ability to do whatever they want? Doesn't happen here. Take any of your favorite trapped-in-a-shopping-establishment scenes, actually -- Gremlins, The Initiation, Eight-Legged Freaks, Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama -- and then forget about any of the fun, the anarchy, or the delight that the characters take when they realize that they can actually take shit and not be blamed for it, because the world outside has fallen to pieces. Even the original (which I haven't seen in years and remember as being pretty boring) has a pretty extensive sequence when the survivors loot the joint, but here it's cut down to 30 seconds of trying on clothes, apparently to make room for more incomprehensible action scenes. Gone is the social commentary, gone is the breaking down of the social contract, gone is the looting. And gone is the food court -- where do these fucking people eat?

Another huge problem I had with the film was with the way it was shot. Like every other commercial director out there, Zack Snyder opts for shutter speed over storytelling at every juncture, and by the third act everything looks like a Gatorade ad, I can't tell any of the characters apart (especially the half-dozen that don't even have any lines but seem to just be waiting around to get chewed up or cut in half with a chainsaw), and I'm really, really bored. Call me old-fashioned, but if you're going to shoot seven scenes at the same coffee bar, the coffee bar should really look similar every time, not cross-processed this time, flourescent lit the next, bleach-bypassed the third, and on and on. Apparently ramped shutter speeds and erratic camerawork, when cut together with a hacksaw, will substitute for such things as tension and atmosphere, and bleach bypass can stand in for acting. The result is self-conscious and detatched, and completely distracts from the story, perhaps because -- well, there isn't one in the first place.

As I mentioned before, most of the film then involves the survivors hanging out around an ironically named coffee bar ("Hallowed Grounds") or running around in tunnels that have zombies in them. Mekhi and Inna have an unsurprisingly zombified baby (she's bit early on, so it's no real shocker), other folks appear and are unsurprisingly zombified, and eventually the whole troop leaves the safety of the mall to save an apparently retarded teenage girl (and improbable graffiti artist) who is so stupid and worthless that she drives into a hoarde of thousands of zombies to fetch a dog, and for some ungodly reason is allowed by the filmmakers to live until the end of the film. Is this supposed to be encouraging? That a drippy, spineless little bitch like that is going to repopulate the earth with her gay rent-a-cop boyfriend (ironically, these two actors also appear as a couple in Wrong Turn -- a far scarier film -- and are the first to get it)? Thank god the film tacks on a "shocking" coda where everyone ends up dying, because the thought of any of the characters surviving (except Sarah Polley, who by this point has basically become the Pass-Around-Party-Bottom of bad luck and obviously isn't going to catch any breaks any time soon anyway) is too depressing for words.

Besides that, the sequel to this film -- which picks up exactly where this one leaves off -- has already been made: it's called House of the Dead and it's even worse than this one.

Rating (out of 5):