I don’t watch many scary horror films. I can handle the lightweight, jump-out-of-your-seat stuff, like Scream, Event Horizon, or Cube, but I’m not too good with the films that really set out to disturb and unsettle. It took me months to recover from The Blair Witch Project, and after seeing the 1978 version of Invasion of The Body Snatchers as an impressionable teenager I still can’t deal with having plants in the bedroom. People keep telling me how good Ring and its Japanese original Ringu are, but I have no intention of ever seeing either. Nuh-uh.
So I’m not really sure why I wanted to see Dawn Of The Dead. Maybe I wanted to expose myself to a little zombie culture before catching Shaun Of The Dead, which looks like a blast. Maybe my inner film fan wanted to compensate for never having seen the George Romero original. Maybe it was the only alternative to Starsky and Hutch that Abi found palatable…. Whatever. We saw it last night.
The first fifteen minutes or so are intensely unsettling. Before it all gets really hectic and bloody, there is a period of quiet and uncertainty that you know can’t last. It’s just a question of when the stillness will be punctured. When that moment comes, you’ve spent just enough time building up empathy with the characters that it is thoroughly shocking and disturbing. Especially if you’re a parent whose kids have a habit of getting up and scratching at your bedroom door in the middle of the night. Thanks, Alex. That was a 4am wake up call I could have done without.
Once the zombies break cover, though, the film turns into a more conventional spot-the-survivor thrill ride. A small gang of uninfected people barricade themselves in a mall, and try to figure out how to escape. They have to overcome their own bickering and paranoia, but apart from a few moving scenes, they don’t dwell on their personal losses. Their focus is on action and hope rather than on fear and despair–for which I’m glad, because I don’t think I could have coped with a whole film that was as scary as this one’s opening act.
I’m now also reconsidering my interest in seeing 28 Days Later. I did enjoy Dawn Of The Dead, but one really scary movie every few years is quite enough for me.