Based on Romero's original "Dawn" script (itself a sequel to his 1968 "Night of the Living Dead"), the remake follows characters such as a brave young nurse (the refreshingly un-movie-star-ish Sarah Polley from "Go") and a grim, shotgun-packing cop ("Dark Blue's" Ving Rhames) as they fight for their lives after a mysterious affliction transforms most of the local population into ferocious, people-munching zombies in a matter of hours. The inevitable social microcosm of survivors ends up barricaded in a shopping mall, plotting a last stand against the growing horde of flesh-starved living dead waiting outside the place's shatterproof glass doors.
Commercial director Zack Snyder, making his feature debut, and screenwriter James Gunn (the "Scooby-Doo" movies) get things off to a rollicking good start with an effects-heavy action prologue introducing us to the zombie-infested new world order through the eyes of Polley's character, then maintain an effective balance of stomach-churning horror (an undead pregnancy and birth, anyone?) and suspenseful battle sequences for the duration. Much less thematically ambitious than either Romero's more overtly satirical original or Danny Boyle's moody semi-art-house smash "28 Days Later," the new "Dawn" nonetheless manages to work on its own, more conventional terms. A likable acting ensemble and generous helpings of post-9/11 self-sacrificing heroism keep a surprisingly strong human element going despite the grisly nature of the proceedings. Starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by James Gunn. Produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, Marc Abraham and Eric Newman. A Universal release. Horror. Rated R for pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language and sexuality. Running time: 99 min