I think you can argue about which film best captures the reality of 9/11 -- United 93 and World Trade Center each have their supporters, and they have their reasons. But, to me, another film came out of nowhere to truly capture the feel of that morning -- how the news went from casual to ominous while you ate breakfast, or how you woke to a changed world without knowing it, and the fever-pitch sense of raw-nerve terror right after as you realized something horrible was happening but didn't quite know what was going on. And worse, you didn't know what was going to happen next. Of course, that movie had no link to the reality of that morning (or, for that matter, the reality of any morning), but sitting in the theater watching Zack Snyder's 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead, I felt fiercely, keenly unnerved: Yeah, I remember that. Within the first ten minutes of Dawn of the Dead, Sarah Polley's Ana goes to bed in a world she knows; long shifts, 'date night' at home with her husband, bad reality shows on TV and gossip about friends. She wakes up -- as we woke up -- and all of that is gone.
Dawn of the Dead's pre-credit sequence depicts, in short order, a few moments of serene normalcy before the apocalypse comes (literally) to our door howling and blood-hungry. During the credits, civilization falls apart in a matter of hours, which we see in a montage set to the unsettling strum of Johnny Cash's 'When the Man Comes Around.' If Dawn of the Dead ended at Snyder's credit, it would still be far better than most of its horror-film peers. But Dawn of the Dead does more than just grab us; it holds on, and with a surprisingly skillful grip. It's a remake of George A. Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead, with a group of people holed up in a mall set against a zombie apocalypse, but let me be blunt and bold (and probably raise the bloodlust of Romero fanatics, a legion as numerous as their idol's undead armies). George A. Romero is to horror film as the Sex Pistols were to rock and roll: Far more influential than actually good. The original Dawn of the Dead had the advantage of originality and the shock of the new, but it's also a bit stiff -- it actually includes a pie fight set to wacky comedy music, for one example. The new one has plenty of humor (dark, gallows humor, the uneasy giggles you make when you dodge a banana peel on the way to the electric chair) but there's not a wink in it. Director Snyder plays the material with full-on ferocity, and we're swept up completely.