Day of the Dead
Review by Mike Finkelstein
I'm not going to make the argument that any of the George Romero Living Dead films are perfect; I like them a lot but each of them does have their own little flaws. The original Night of the Living Dead is hobble a bit by pacing but really struggles against its budget, 1978's Dawn of the Dead feels very 1978 at this point and, while still great, hasn't aged as well, and Day of the Dead is just not the best like, by fans, of the original trilogy of films.
I say all this to note that I'm not inherently against remakes of the Living Dead films. Hell, I even enjoy the 1990 Night of the Living Dead (and I know I'm in the minority on that one), but a remake has to hit some minimum level of "good" and, in all honesty, the 2008 Day of the Dead fails on ever score. This absolutely feels like a company lucking into the license for the film, sitting on it for a while, and then cranking out a low-budget film simply to reserve the rights a little longer. The film barely meets the minimum standards we need to have for movie, let alone those attached to a great series like Romero's zombie masterpieces.
We open with a few teenagers, including Trevor (Michael Welch) and Nina (AnnaLynne McCord), who are dating. They ditch their friends and head back to Trevor's house, ostensibly so he can check on his sick mom but mostly so they can make out downstairs without an audience. Meanwhile we then join Corporal Sarah Cross (Mena Suvari), who, yes, is Trevor's older sister. She's been called to her hometown, along with her whole unit, at the behest of Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames), so they can contain a medical outbreak. No specific reason is given for why their unit is the one that has to specifically handle it, but she's here so Cpl. Cross is going to make the best of it.
After getting her men settled in, Cross heads to town with Private Bud Crain (Stark Sands) in tow. They check in at her house, find her brother there with his girlfriend (which leads to a fight), and then she checks on her mother, only to find the elder Cross near death's door. Sarah and Trevor take their mother to the hospital, but it's already overrun with sick people... and then the sick being to turn and the medical emergency becomes a full-blow outbreak and the sick begin to die and then come right back to life. Now they have to escape their hometown if the Cross kids want to stay alive.
There are any number of issues I have with this movie, and we're going to cover them all, but the biggest one I have is that this film barely resembles Day of the Dead at all. I get that the original film has some cachet so the producers totally wanted to attach that name to their film to get some sales (certainly I picked up this film, cheaply mind you, because of the name), but when you use the name "Day of the Dead" one would expect the film to at least use a few plot elements from the original Day of the Dead. The best we can say here is that there are some military characters in the film and one of them is named "Bud". That's your whole connection.
If you were expecting a deep exploration of the remnants of civilization after years suffering through the zombie outbreak, you're looking in the wrong movie. This film is a shallow exploration of zombies at all and, basically, could have been called just about anything and have achieved the same goal: the crank out a low-budget zombie film to steal a few bucks from consumers with the least amount of effort possible. It's like a slap in the face that they used the name "Day of the Dead" for this garbage.
And it is garbage, mind you. This is probably one of the cheapest looking zombie films I've ever seen, the original Night of the Living Dead included. Everything is covered with Halloween store-level makeup and cheap CGI effects, putting the least amount of movie into this bargain-bin production. It was clearly made in the backyards of a few people, along with an abandoned hospital and an old utility site, giving everything a bland feel to the production. Nothing in this movie seems like anyone cared about how it looked.
That also extends to the actors as even the good ones -- Mena Suvari being the "best" here, and she did once turn out a couple of decent performances back in the day -- can't be bothered to create great characters. I think in the case of Suvari she's hobbled by a character she doesn't understand. She's supposed to be a "tough-as-nails" officer, but she seems utterly lost any time she has to be "in command". The times where she can let her guard down and act like a normal human, she's great, but most of the time she has to be in "officer mode" and she utterly unbelievable.
It doesn't help that the film doesn't seem to understand how soldiers are supposed to behave. The script has the other soldiers regularly hitting on Cpl. Cross, making comments about how she looks and asking her to date them. Note, she's their superior officer and, clearly, that would never happen. But she doesn't say that, nor does she really punish any of her men for stepping out of line. It's like the script is okay with her sexual harassment and she just shrugs it off like, "soldiers, what are you gonna do"?
Not that I think Cross should even be sent to her hometown to contain a pandemic -- that seems like a serious conflict of interest, a situation that would easily cause Cross to lose perspective. And, guess what, five minutes after she's away from base she loses perspective and gets wrapped up in her family's business instead of doing her job.
We can't like Trevor either, though, because he's an absolute dick to his sister. He's pissed at her for leave to join the military -- a move that, it should be noted, is never explained as, when asked why she left home, she only ever says, "it's complicated," and then the movie drops it entirely. So he's mad at her (as is his mother), which just seems out of character since, generally, a family that would producer an officer in the military is usual the kind that would embrace the move. Instead she's treated like shit for her decision to, you know, serve her country and the movie, once again, just seems fine with it.
There are so many lapses in logic like this, little things that just don't add up and make you wonder what world these people are living it. This is on top of a story that is rushed, a film that never settles down, and an ending that just shoves everything under the carpet so we can assume the characters get their "big happy ending". This, too, is a trope I hate, having two characters that hate each other and then, once one of them does something heroic, acting like everything is solved. Their heroism doesn't change your issues with them, guys, so don't pretend otherwise.
Just, seriously, in every regard this film is awful. If it hadn't been somehow connected to the greater Living Dead multiverse I doubt I would have even finished watching it. It's just such a meandering, stupid, tedious, and poorly made waste of time I'm amazed everyone involved didn't watch the first set of dailies and go, "you know what? My mom was right. I should have gone to worked at McDonald's," and wrapped production right there. Then, at least, we would have been spared from this waste of celluloid.