from Film Forum, 03/25/04
Whether it's a sacred sacrifice or schlock and horror, blood is big box office.
This week, Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ came to the end of its reign at the top of the weekly charts. Taking its place, Dawn of the Dead, an over-the-top horror remake directed by Zack Snyder, featured more bodies rising from the grave. But these bodies are not resurrected so much as they are reanimated — with a monstrous desire to slay and devour the living. Thus, the band of survivors in the spotlight, including a nurse (Sarah Polley of Go and Guinevere), a courageous cop (Ving Rhames of Pulp Fiction, Out of Sight), and a mall security guard (Michael Kelly) must do what they can to blast zombie heads from zombie shoulders in an attempt to save the world.
After pulling in $26.7 million in its first weekend, Dawn of the Dead is giving the entertainment media a field day with variations of the headline "Top-Grossing Zombies Scare Away Jesus." That's no surprise. The fact that The Passion held #1 for three full weeks will probably remain the film industry's most significant event this year.
But what are we to conclude from the fact that mainstream film critics are giving Dawn of the Dead much higher marks than The Passion? Sure, Gibson's work was flawed, but is it really inferior in terms of artmaking, meaning, and significance? What a sad, sad commentary on critical discernment in the mainstream. It seems their credibility crumbles when they prove incapable of appreciating the work of a principled artist motivated by faith.
But religious press film critics are not afraid of criticizing this horde of cannibalistic monsters.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) finds the movie "laced with campy, pitch-black humor with pretensions of social commentary. That the last stronghold of humanity is a shopping mall … is no coincidence, and, in a subversively sardonic way, seems to say much more about carnivorous consumerism than cannibalistic corps of corpses." But in his view, the film is still sorely lacking. He concludes that moviegoers, "like the zombies, are out for blood. [The film] perversely pursues a pornographic kind of video-game violence, not to educate, but to entertain and exploit."
Zachary Winn (Christian Spotlight), a fan of the original Living Dead trilogy, actually had high hopes for the film, but came away unsatisfied. "We are left with a standard and predictable action/horror movie, lacking anything that was remarkable or interesting about the original. Most notably missing are the enjoyable, fleshed-out characters and the witty social commentary."from Film Forum, 04/01/04
Mike Furches (Hollywood Jesus) observes that Dawn of the Dead is about "whether we will follow the ways of hell or the ways of God. Those ways … are to love and care for others, to make sacrifices that sometimes require the giving up of one's own life for another person."
Steven Isaac (Plugged In) is troubled by the film's success. "As throngs of the still-living shuffle zombie-like out of another round of Dawn of the Dead screenings, most won't be bothered by the idea that they've just been enticed into thinking on those things exactly opposite of that which is 'noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.'"