Who knew that a remake of Day of the Dead came out this year? Having stumbled across its existence, I certainly wish I didn’t.
Though to call it a remake would be too high a compliment. This is a remake only in the sense of whoever wrote it may have been told about the original film, once, when they were very drunk.
There is pretty much no reason to even call this film Day of the Dead as it bears almost no resemblance to Romero’s film, apart from a few characters’ names.
The film opens with two teenage couples making out and exploring an abandoned military facility out in the woods. After a couple of cheap scares they decide to head back to town, but when one of the boys drips blood from his nose onto his girlfriend she freaks out and decides to walk back through the woods. Unsurprisingly there is something out there, and she meets a sticky end off-screen.
After this slasher-esque opening, the film gets down to the main business of the plot.
The town where the teenagers live is being placed under quarantine by the military (initially reported to be a routine exercise). One of the soldiers manning the road block is Sarah (Mena Suvari), originally from said town.
After some business with a couple of male soldiers whom she outranks, Sarah and Bud (Stark Sands) go into town on orders from Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames).
First stop is home, where it is revealed that one of the teenagers from the opening is Sarah’s kid brother Trevor (Michael Welch). Finding that her mother is sick, Sarah takes her to hospital, with Bud, Trevor and his girlfriend Nina (Annalynne McCord) tagging along. Once there it emerges that the whole town is sick with some mysterious virus, which kills them and turns them into, yes, you guessed it, zombies.
Now, you might think, hurray! the good stuff can begin, but unfortunately any sense of fun is rather short lived. As in Jack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead zombies can now run with alarming speed, which I feel, rather takes the point out of them.
Sarah and Bud are separated from Trevor and Nina, and joined by fellow soldier Salazar (Nick Cannon) and the slightly sinister Doctor Logan (Matt Rippy). And so it goes on, with the band of survivors trying to flee from the hospital to a safer place, dispatching zombies and nearly getting killed in various scrapes, before they are reunited and find their way to the abandoned military facility in the opening.
One of the main concessions to the original is the presence of a zombie as a character, potentially revealing how like us they still are.
However, the difference in tone of how this is handled demonstrates the gulf between Romero’s version and Miner’s. Romero’s Bub (Howard Sherman) has been trained by crazy scientist Logan (Richard Liberty), part of his project to control the living dead that now outnumber the humans. A great deal of sympathy is generated by the texture of Sherman’s performance, which emphasises Bub’s childlike qualities: his wide staring eyes, the tactility of his interaction with the objects, his grunting communication.
Through this attention there is the sense of the zombie physically coping with his existence, shown in the way he brushes against the boundaries of what his body is and what it can do, both not understanding it’s differences and dealing with the consequences of his new embodiment, gradually adapting to it.
As such Sherman’s performance is most engaging, as well as being crucial to the developing representation of the zombie.
In Day of the Dead mark 2 whilst still in the hospital, Bud is bitten and then gradually turns into a zombie, allowed to remain in this state as his lack of aggression prompts Sarah to protect him from the others.
Stark Sands’ zombie performance, whilst not bad, is rather limited to forlorn staring with a touch of drool, making him too drastically different from his all-running, all-maiming brethren. Hilariously (or mind-bogglingly awful, depending on how much you love Romero), their explanation for this is that in life he was a vegetarian. I think that this explains a great deal.
The real shame though is the general competence of the cast, in contrast with everything they are asked to do by the laboured plot.
Suvari in particular turns in an engaging performance, making Sarah a fairly forceful heroine. Indeed, the film’s insistence on female agency (with both Sarah and Nina remaining level headed and effective) is something to be applauded.
Unfortunately the narrative and the way it is set up visually makes the film feel inescapably more and more like a video game, any dynamicism suggested by the characters gradually sucked out of the experience of watching it.
Even if you don’t hold a particular reverence for Romero’s original film, this all feels pretty pointless.
Additional film information: Day of the Dead (2008) (V)