Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming.

Dawn of the Dead is the best zombie movie that I’ve ever seen!

That’s not saying much since the only other zombie film that I can remember seeing (I don’t count 28 Days Later or I am Legend as real zombie films) is Romero’s first zombie film, The Night of the Living Dead, which is also quite good.

Dawn is a sequel to Night, exploring some of the wider implications of what a zombie infested world would look like. That last sentence might sound ridiculous, but I don’t think so. The hungry Undead may seem like a stupid starting point for any film, easily sliding into schlock, but Romero mostly plays it straight, working in a plausible science fantasy context. One only needs to be willing to suspend disbelief and accept the film’s basic premise.

When hell is full, the dead will walk the earth.

There is a lot of humor and subtle satire amidst the horror, but Romero never loses his way by veering into Exploitation or Camp. He walks a fine line between the two, ultimately making what I can’t help but think is a genuinely moving, lyrical film. It’s not Days of Heaven by any means, but there is a poetic rhythm in much of the visual imagery and in the film’s relatively slow pacing, allowing characters to reveal themselves properly, all in good time. The story, as silly as it could have been, is firmly grounded in real human persons with recognizable human emotions.

My favorite scene is almost an aside, a brief look at some “good ol’ boys” enjoying the hell out of zombie hunting. Zombie infestation as Redneck wet dream rings hilariously true, but Romero shows us this in a really respectful manner. It’s a compliment of sorts to country boys to portray them as not only capable of dealing with any manner of vermin, but to be able to blissfully enjoy themselves while citified folk are running scared, trying to make existential sense of the situation, and generally being eaten alive.

The mall setting obviously allows for lots of little jabs at consumer culture, but I think that even here Romero is subtle and tastefully refrained instead of wild and bombastic in his critiques.

The most beautiful shot is of two of our heroes, “Flyboy” and Francine, in bed after having a rare date at one of the mall’s restaurants. The scene in the restaurant shows us two people trying to enjoy something normal after experiencing so much trauma. The shot immediately following this scene is a long shot of the couple in bed, him laying down on his side, sleeping, and her, sitting up and staring blankly. What can safely be assumed to be a post-coital moment is revealed as a moment of spiritual devastation rather than something exultant and hopeful, reminding me most of Haneke’s The Seventh Continent. It’s hard not to be an acting nihilist when the dead are walking the earth.

The film ends on a note of hesitant hope even though the likely conclusion should the story continue for another hour is that the helicopter runs out of gas and our remaining two protagonists are eaten alive by zombies wherever they land. The ending is perfect, but slightly marred by a strange “action hero” style sequence involving one of the characters deciding not to leave on the helicopter only to change his mind, fight off a dozen zombies, then reach the helicopter at the very last minute. The music (generally good throughout) is here like something straight out of the A-Team and it just feels odd. I’m not sure what to make of this last 5 minutes or so.

Dawn of the Dead really caught me by surprise. Now I’m really looking forward to the next four movies in this mini-horror-movie-marathon. Thank you Allos for getting me started along this trail of dead and undead.

1 comment:

Summer People said...

What a great film. You should check out Martin and Day of the Dead. They aren't near Dawn, but Romero is a pretty consistent good time.