It took about ten years for Romero to find something new to explore with zombies. It was the Dawn of the Shopping Mall, with large insular buildings housing a variety of stores. At the time, this encapsulated the concerns of modern life and consumerism. George Romero looked at the shopping mall and thought “What a terrifying place!”
The film opens amidst a frenzied newsroom trying to make sense of what is happening. It appears this may be the same night as the original film, though the film is never that explicit. It does not reference Night of the Living Dead. None of the films do, actually. Each film seems to take place in an ever present “now”, regardless of if it makes sense in the greater context of all the films.
Two newsroom employees escape in a helicopter, along with two S.W.A.T. team members. They end up landing on a mall roof. What follows is an adventure of survival as they build a small fortress and use the mall stores to wait out the zombie situation. At first, this works out quite well, and they get creative, building fake walls to hide stairwells from Zombies, blocked glass doors with trucks, using the mall keys to move from store to store and get supplies.
But you know their paradise cannot last as outside forces close in. Romero keeps his central cast to a tight four. This is a good choice, as we are allowed to connect with our leads and root for their success in a way that can be hard if there are to many people to keep track of.
The gore effects are improved over the previous effort, though as Tom Savini noted making many zombies grayish colored actually results in zombies looking blue. And the blood splatter from some zombies seems far to large for shambling dead creatures.
This is the film that really set up the “Zombie represents mindless consumption” metaphor. Which is kind of funny, since there have been an endless supply of bad zombie films over the years for the masses to consume. But Dawn of the Dead is a great film and important to the horror (and especially zombie films) genre.