It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The contrast between this new version of "Dawn of the Dead" and the 1979 George Romero original is instructive in the ways that Hollywood has grown more skillful and less daring over the years. From a technical point of view, the new "Dawn" is slicker and more polished, and the acting is better, too. But it lacks the mordant humor of the Romero version, and although both films are mostly set inside a shopping mall, only Romero uses that as an occasion for satirical jabs at a consumer society.
The 1979 film dug deeper in another way, by showing two groups of healthy humans fighting each other; the new version draws a line between the healthy and the zombies and maintains it. Since the zombies cannot be blamed for their behavior, there's no real conflict between good and evil in Zack Snyder's new version; just humans fighting ghouls. The conflict between the two healthy groups in the Romero film does have a pale shadow in the new one; a hard-nosed security guard (Michael Kelly) likes to wave his gun and order people around and is set up as the bad guy, but his character undergoes an inexplicable change just for the convenience of the plot.
All of which is not to say that the new "Dawn of the Dead" doesn't do an efficient job of delivering the goods. The screenplay, credited to James Gunn (based on George Romero's original screenplay), has been co-produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, who produced the original. They use the same premise: An unexplained disease or virus, spread by human bites, kills its victims and then resurrects them as zombies. The creatures then run berserk, attacking healthy humans, infecting them, and so on. The only way to kill them is to shoot them in the head. True to the general speed-up in modern Hollywood, these new-issue zombies run fast, unlike the earlier ones, who lurched along. They also seem smarter, and make decisions faster, unlike the 1979 models, who were likely to lurch up the down escalator.
The story begins with Ana (Sarah Polley) greeting a young girl who lives in the neighborhood. As the girl skates away on her in-lines, the shot is held just a little longer than seems natural, informing us Something Bad Will Happen to Her. And does, as the next morning she attacks Ana's boyfriend, and Ana barely escapes with her life. After zombies roam the streets, newscasters fight hysteria and neighborhoods burn, Ana eventually finds herself part of a small group in the local shopping mall.