I’m working on my “mediated horror film” article (I still don’t like that phrase), and I’ve been trying to think through the recent Dawn remake. I saw the film a second time recently at a creepy dollar theater up in Gwinnett County, and the film’s focus on TV and video seemed less significant than in my initial viewing of the film. This entry appears (somewhat unintentionally) to have turned into a brainstorming entry.
The opening and closing credits are clearly the most explicit references to TV and video, and there are several other key references. One point I hadn’t noticed, articulated by Jami Bernard, is the fact that Ana’s (Sara Polley) husband is watching a Survivor-style reality TV show. The survivors watch big screen news broadcasts in order to learn information about the zombies, with one security guard dismissively questioning the validity of the TV reports by commenting, “They say a lot of things on TV.” Later in the film, the gun store owner-survivalist guy, Andy, shoots various zombies based on their resemblance to celebrities (Rosie O’Donnell, Burt Reynolds). I’d also note in passing that Elvis Mitchell’s observation about the film’s resemblance to a video game is also relevant (although I still disagree with his review).
But during the second half of the film, there’s very little focus on the media/TV. In this context, I’ve been trying to interpret the final sequence when the zombies’ pursuit of the living seems to accelerate. The sequence reminded me of the opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan, at least in terms of how it was filmed, a reaction shared by the Diabolical Dominion reviewer (I’ve been trying to find out/figure out if they used the same effect).
Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe discusses the film’s Blair Witch-inspired ending, but he seems to take the use of video in horror film pretty much at face value:
Video might just be the final frontier for horror, which is too junked up with noise, formulas, and the witless bravado of mediocre directors to matter anymore. It’s how thousands of amateur home-moviemakers capture immediate reality. Exploiting that “amateur” technology to spook us is a stroke of brilliance, conveying an end-of-the-world darkness in a format we associate with truth. This is an idea grasped by both the makers of the smarter, more rigorously structured “28 Days Later” and the boys behind “Blair Witch.”
“Dawn of the Dead” is afraid to commit to a similar mood of digital doom, however. In the end, it’s no substitute for either of those movies or, even more so, Romero’s own idea of rancid humanity.
I’d agree with him that film generally seems to associate video with truth or immediacy, but it seems crucial that the Blair Witch films are constantly working to undercut that. I’m less inclined to agree that Dawn dodges the “doom” of the other zombie films. Specifically, I’d point back to the apocalyptic images during the opening credits, which show that the zombie plague has infected the entire world. By returning to a “mediated” delivery (a camcorder instead of TV, but clearly coded as mediated), the apocalyptic imagery is reignited. That being said, the satire is less focused than in the Romero original, and the commentary on mediation less nuanced than in both Blair Witch and The Ring. More later.