I am currently finishing up Kevin Wetmore's fine volume, Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their Time (McFarland and Company, 2011) with an eye toward an interview in the near future. This morning I read the chapter that discussed the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead. Wetmore notes that many commentators and critics have dismissed the film because of its alleged lack of social criticism. Wetmore disagrees, and makes a good case for the film reflecting the sociophobics of the time, which, in his view, incorporates a "bleak nihilism" as "the quintessential post-9/11 horror film."
In one of the more interesting facets of his analysis, Wetmore considers the opening credit sequence of the film where a connection is made between zombies and terrorists. Witmore writes:
The opening credit sequence features a number of news clips and seemingly raw live, documentary footage. One of the first images is a group of Muslims bowing in prayer, followed by images from disasters, news broadcasts, and indistinct shots, brief and out of focus. The film begins with imagery designed to evoke terrorism and 9/11. The bowing Muslims from the opening give way to images of zombies. The credits end with what looks like a television journalist reporting from a hotel in the Middle East; the camera suddenly turns to show soliders being attacked by zombies in the hotel room, and the final zombie attacking the camera, also looking Middle-Eastern. The visual link is made -- threat is world-wide, but America and the American way of life are particularly at risk. We are under assault from without and within, just as on 9/11. The zombie is a terrorist.
Wetmore's book makes a helpful contribution to an understanding of zombie films in terms of sociophobics and their immediate cultural contexts. In addition to zombies as terrorists, he also includes a consideration of Dawn's take on the difficulty of establishing and maintaining genuine relationships, and an interesting shift in the religious framework of the 1978 Dawn with its reference to "When there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth."
Look for a discussion of these ideas here soon.