Zack Snyder is one of the most divisive names in all of film. His name alone elicits contentious responses across the internet, with those who praise all his work with little to no room for criticism and those who have a disdain for anything the director touches. However, the one film in his catalog that brings forth the most harmony with movie fans, even between his harshest critics, is 2004's Dawn of the Dead.
For Snyder's directorial debut, he took on the challenge of remaking one of the horror genre's most celebrated films in George Romero's 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Remaking a horror film of the past is a common occurrence in today's film landscape. In the early 2000s, there were quite a few, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Wax, The Amityville Horror, 13 Ghosts, and The Ring. However, as time has passed, Snyder's reimagining of the Dawn of the Dead has continued to be a fan favorite.
Taking on the reigns of writing the film was the now comic book film auteur James Gunn. At the time, Gunn was two years from his directorial debut and was best known for writing the two live-action Scooby-Doo films and Tromeo and Juliet. Gunn and Snyder differentiated their version by taking an action-orientated approach, combining a fast pace with a high level of gore and violence.
The film shines the most in its ability to capture the audience's attention by foregoing exposition. Dawn of the Dead immediately puts the audience into the situation, not wasting any time in the movie's opening sequence. Within the first 15 minutes, the film firmly establishes the dire situation the characters are in and the world they occupy.
Following the template set by 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead has zombies that, at times, sprint full speed toward their prey. The decision to use faster zombies brings a level of dread and tension for viewers as the characters must react quickly to survive. This one dynamic allowed Dawn of the Dead to utilize more action elements, making it just as much an action film as a horror movie about zombies.
The characters in the movie are kept relatively simple and relatable. Some are more likable than others. Creating a world where people are uprooted from their lives gives the characters a level of empathy for the audience that otherwise may not have been there.
"I think that in the end, Dawn of the Dead is about redemption," said writer/director James Gunn to IGN in 2004. It' 's about a bunch of people who have lived certain lives, who have maybe not been the best people, and suddenly they have everything that they've used to define themselves: Their careers, their churches, their jobs, their families are stripped away. They're gone."
One of the advantages that Snyder's version of Dawn of the Dead has over the original is that it was made decades later, allowing for better technology to be used for the visual effects. The original film has the legendary Tom Savini handle the special effects, and due to their practical nature, they still hold up to this day. The only downfall may have been the look of the zombies, who had a chalky white appearance. David LeRoy Anderson handled the makeup effects for the remake. He used three different stages for the zombies that went from pale to an almost skeleton form.
For horror fanatics with friends and family who aren't as enthused by the genre, Dawn of the Dead fills the void as a horror film that all audiences can enjoy. For moviegoers who are hesitant to watch anything horror-related, Dawn of the Dead plays the role of the perfect gateway by simply creating a fun experience in a deadly life-changing situation. The action, pacing, and intimate setting with a small cast of characters provide an experience that is still effective for a modern audience.