After an apprenticeship in advertising and video clips, which he made intermittently throughout the 1990s, in 2004, while post-modernity clung to the body of cinema like a flesh-eating virus, Zack Snyder makes his directorial debut with Dawn of the Living Dead.
We are in the same year as Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, the zombies are back (in fashion) and Snyder, already particularly ambitious, instead of choosing the path of desecrating comedy immediately sling towards the highway of mythization of images and of the imaginaries that would mark his entire career in the following years.
Using the brilliant script of James Gunn, author accustomed to filthy and slimy horror which had made its debut in 1996 under the direction of Tromeo e Juliet and that in 2006 he would return to horror with Slither, Zack Snyder conducts his very own version of Dawn.
It is not yet the one of Justice mentioned in the full Batman v Superman title, but neither is it the one that George Romero had imagined in 1978: is a new film, not limping but snappy, protean and self-confident bordering on pride, a gym in preparation for the definition of one of the most emblematic, recognizable and immediate styles of its generation.
More than a remake, a re-foundation
The plot, well known, is more or less that of the Romerian dawn of the undead, but Snyder with his style - still immature and in the making - fills the very gaps that separate the differences from one another.
In the hours just following the outbreak of the most terrible zombie apocalypse you can imagine, a group of survivors barricades themselves inside a deserted shopping mall where they find almost everything they need to get by as hordes of undead flock to the parking lots. surround the structure. Of course, very few things will go as hoped by the protagonists, and not everyone will make it to the end of the film.
Still regarded today as one of the most successful remakes of the 21st century, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Living Dead finds the trump card in the very fact of never being a real remake.
If anything, it is a reinterpretation, but if we want to get out of balance, we could even speak of a refoundation. Because Snyder, incredibly cultured and very well trained on the subject (he will declare on several occasions that he has chosen this film as one of his favorites of all time) manages to take every single cue of the Romerian opera par excellence and take it elsewhere, mainly elsewhere that interests him.
The most immediately recognizable difference is embodied by the zombies themselves: the undead of George Romero, putative father of the entire genre, since Night of the Living Dead they find strength in numbers because they reflect a dull, staggering, cold and lifeless society; those of Snyder, inherited from the eclectic and British Danny Boyle 28 days later, they are moved by an exaggerated aggression, they growl and drool, they are almost pre-superhuman in the rapidity of their movements and become the emblem of a cinema, the Snyderian one, which will make the rhythm of the bodies and the way of framing and blocking them in space its own raison d'etre.
Another kind of sunrise
The next important distinction is the count of the main characters, four in Romero's film and instead disproportionate in Snyder's "remake": ensemble director, devoted to the exaltation of a certain camaraderie, already from here Snyder suggests that interest in closed groups and communities (which are often created fortuitously for the most disparate circumstances) which he will continue to analyze in subsequent films, with an eye always attentive to individuality (as happens in some films by John Carpenter).
The narrative arc of Michael Kelly's character is emblematic in this sense, called CJ and presented as an antagonist before moving on to the "light side", whose final sacrifice for the safeguard of the group anticipates those of Leonidas, Rorschach, Superman and Batman (the latter at least planned for Justice League 3, even if never realized).
But Snyder's cinema in the making seems to be all in existence in Dawn of the Living Dead. There is already the introductory scene with an accompanying piece with a strong popular background, "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash (a real trademark that, we anticipate, will also return in Army of the Dead), there are already some typical ways of playing with the camera to watch a certain gesture (like triggering the dog a gunshot, almost a topical moment for Snyder that will return in both Watchmen and Batman v Superman with the same angles) e there is already that political and social disillusionment that in his cinema it will always be present but constantly decentralized, more a pretext or an oppressive background than the real juice of the discourse (which always remains the body, clay in the hands of the demiurge).
Snyder, primarily visual author, that is, able to think in images, transforms the safety of the interior into the worst possible cage for its protagonists: if in the original film Romero's characters in the shopping center almost found an idyll, a paradise far from hell, in that of 2004 the huge building becomes a prison for bodies and minds.
The whole narrative focuses on the ability (or not) of the characters to come to terms with their own personal defeat, the sense of discomfort caused by the loss of a loved one or by the explosion of that particular event. The director sticks to these characters, follows them everywhere and in any situation, even conceives the birth of a non-life and in the end theorizes a non-end with credits that seem not to want to run outindeed, they fear other adventures, other places-prisons, even other kinds.
It is not by chance that the whole "final part" is attributable to the mockumentary, it is just the umpteenth visual game of an aesthetic cinema that here, at dawn, rises with vibrant arrogance and convincing confidence.