Fiercely funny and utterly horrifying, Dawn Of The Dead is a killer zombie movie. A remake of George A Romero's 1978 classic, it stars Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley as refugees from an undead apocalypse, trapped in a shopping centre with other desperate survivors. Downplaying the anti-consumerist edge of the original, debut director Zack Snyder amps up the action with the running dead proving fleet-footed and fearsome foes in a stylish, gore-drenched shoot-em-up. It may not truly chill, but it does thrill.
"America always sorts its **** out" says CJ (Michael Kelly), a security guard whose aggressive selfishness threatens to destroy the group even if the undead don't. Sat in a room walled with TVs, watching news reports of the apocalypse, he's a damning portrait of couch potato humanity: ogling the ultimate reality TV. Not that writer James Gunn or Snyder appears desperately interested in social commentary. They concentrate instead on putting the ick in slick, the camerawork ranging from music-video flash to gritty hand-held, in a series of slaughter-fuelled set-pieces - one of which achieves a rare feat in mainstream horror: it actually shocks. (One word: pregnancy.)
"GRIM YET GLEEFUL"
The characters are mostly stereotypes and the emotional aspect is underplayed - Polley grieves less for her husband than you would for a dog - but there are a couple of moments of minor pathos: Rhames' burgeoning friendship with a bloke trapped across the mall car park; Jake Weber's everyman recalling life pre-apocalypse. Weber is the most impressive of the quality cast, bringing a redoubtable decency and charisma to a potentially bland part, like the young Roy Scheider in Jaws.
There are more laughs than tears or fears, with the mall music droning Burt Bacharach or Celine Dion, and some sharp, sarcastic and cynical dialogue. The grim yet gleeful humour is epitomised when the mall-dwellers relieve boredom by urging a sniper to shoot celebrity lookalikes in the seething zombie mass. As an image of normalised brutality it may obliquely comment on our selfish, self-absorbed western society. Or it could just be bloody funny. Either way, Dawn Of The Dead is a welcome resurrection.