It’s been 17 years since Zack Snyder reinvigorated the zombie genre with his remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but with the new trailer for his Netflix original Army of the Dead dropping today he looks set to do it all over again.
A lot has changed in the intervening years, not least with AMC bringing ghouls to the mainstream with its long-running comic-book adaptation of The Walking Dead. Snyder also has had varying degrees of success over the same period, from his iconic interpretations of 300 and Watchmen to a more chequered history with bringing the DCEU to life, a journey that culminated in this year’s highly anticipated Snyder Cut of Justice League. The much-publicised studio meddling surrounding that film’s past perhaps indicates why Snyder has gone with Netflix – a platform renown for giving its film-makers creative control – for his return to the horror genre. And judging by the new footage in today’s trailer it’s a decision which could pay dividends.
Zombie’s have always been a thinking person’s creature, far more than the brainless (and brain-munching) monsters commonly misrepresented. Romero’s films in particular are exemplars of this, grindhouse gore movies which equally trade in criticisms of Conservatism, consumerism and nuclear anxiety. Dawn (1978) is particularly beloved, so although concerns existed around Snyder’s 2004 reboot these were dispelled when he delivered a slick American nightmare that was equally faithful but also fresh and thrilling. It seems like – although apparently unrelated to Romero’s films – Army of the Dead might be tapping into a similar legacy, evoking an fascinating thematic touchstone from 2005’s Land of the Dead.
Though not as essential as his original Dead trilogy, Romero’s Land is notable for building on the idea of “intelligent zombies”, with the undead seen in that film as a social underclass in revolution against a capitalist elite who would consign them to ghettoised slums: a rebellion which – importantly – is lead by a black zombie, named Big Daddy (Eugene Clark). It’s this which seems to have been an inspiration for Snyder, with the trailer seeing zombies which are organised, and appear to have formed a society inside the cordoned off confines of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. And whilst there’s no sign of Big Daddy, the zombie’s leader here appears to be female: a decision which sits well as Hollywood continues to recalibrate in the wake of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements.
None of which is to imply that Army – or indeed Romero’s films – are given to sermonising: one trailer highlight sees a zombified tiger in assault mode (a potential nod to The Walking Dead’s Shiva?); an image which is both fun and emblematic of the genre’s capacity for campy greatness. But that’s always been the way of the zombie: an unlikely marriage between commentary and splatter, depth and guts, and by all accounts it’s this legacy which Snyder seems ready to advance once more.