Revenge of the humans: from 2002

Zombie films created in the 2000s feature zombies that are more agile, vicious, intelligent, and stronger than the traditional zombie. These new fast running zombies have origins in video games, from Resident Evil‘s running zombie dogs and particularly the House of the Dead game’s running human zombies.

In 2004, director Zack Snyder helmed a successful re-imagining of Romero’s 1978 genre classic Dawn of the Dead. Starring Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Jake Weber in a “Mall of the Living Dead” scenario in which a motley crew of survivors join forces to fight the undead inside a Wisconsin shopping center. Nothing new but some improvement over the original with modern-day make-up and visual.

The fourth installment in George A. Romero’s Dead series, 2005’s Land of the Dead marked the legendary zombie director’s return to the franchise after a 20-year break. Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and John Leguizamo are survivors in a world overrun by the living dead. The wealthy are holed up in well-secured skyscrapers, while others must fend for themselves in the streets. This movie also introduce the notion of greater zombies. Nicknamed, Big Daddy, the commander of the zombie army is gradually recovering some consciousness and learn how to use a weapon or climb a wall …

28 Days Later (2003-UK) breathes fresh new life into the zombie genre. Instead of the shambling dead, the enemy here is super-charged infected people whose rage is so great that they cease being human. The film takes place at what seems like the collapse of civilization, and the characters venture forth to see what remains of it. Undead (2003), set in Australia, features a group of survivors in a village infected with zombies. Aliens clean up the infection but it gets out of the village and engulfs the world.

Following in the social satire tradition of George Romero’s zombie flicks, but played much more as a comedy than a straight-up horror film, Shaun of the Dead ranks as one of the most all-around entertaining zombie movies ever made. Telling the story of electronics salesman Shaun (Simon Pegg) as he races across town to save his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who recently dumped him, from the undead. Shaun boasts some great characters (including Shaun’s best friend, Ed, played by Nick Frost), hilarious scenes, and very funny lines, all mixed in with some real scares that elevate it above stock zombie films. Fido (2006) is a zombie comedy set in the 1950s, where humanity is saved from a zombie apocalypse by a corporation who turns zombies into personal servants.

There was a virtual explosion of zombie films, a Zombie Renaissance, from 2005 to 2010.

With REC (2008 – Spain) (remade as Quarantine) and Diary of the Dead (2008) we follow a kind of documentary, shot by a small group of survivors. This artifice reduces the distance with the subject.

Four recent movies focus on the apocalyptic landscape and introduce a new race of human survivors that are natural-born zombie killers.

The  Resident Evil trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2012) from the game, features a virus that infect most of the Earth’s population, turning them into zombies. The few survivors move away in armored groups, or hide underground.

In Planet Terror (2007), a biochemical agent causes a worldwide zombie infection.

In Zombieland (2009), America is ravaged by a zombie plague created by a bad hamburger, but a lone band attempts to survive while traveling to an amusement park. It becomes fun to be a survivor and kill zombies!

World War Z (2013) added the intriguing idea that zombies could work together and coordinate their activities, similar to the behavior of ant colonies. And it was possible – in a post-zombie world, suggested in The Returned (2013), that the infected zombies could be cured (with a retroviral drug) and actually live a normal existence.

It is in the 21st century, that the zombie genre splintered into various branches of exploration of what a zombie could be. Viral outbreak films like 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, and the Dawn of the Dead remake exploited fears of contagion while making the infected zombies faster and stronger than ever before. Zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Fido used zombies as a mere backdrop and catalyst for the personal growth of its human characters. More recently, Train to Busan and One Cut of the Dead used the zombie formula as a foundation to craft tales of family bonds tested.