Film Review

David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone is the combined efforts of three artists who can only be described overall as a trio of the most extreme storytellers of their day, Stephen King, Christopher Walken and David Cronenberg. It’s a bold, counterintuitive and brilliant move on all parts to then make this a restrained, humane and warm-hearted piece of compassionate thriller filmmaking, despite having the aura of a classic horror film. Christopher Walken gives one of his best, most soulful performances as Johnny Smith, a mild mannered schoolteacher who is blessed/cursed with the powers of spooky clairvoyance after a cataclysmic car wreck leaves him in a coma for five years. He can now sense the future, past and ill fated destiny of others around him based on touch, an ability that can save many lives but also has a draining effect on his own spirit forces. As he helps the local sheriff (Tom Skeritt) track a vicious serial killer, tutors the neurologically challenged young son of a rich businessman (Anthony Zerbe) and has growing suspicions about an overzealous, obviously sinister politician (a smarmy as hell Martin Sheen) running for senate, he tries his best to reconnect with the former girlfriend (Brooke Adams) who remarried during his coma and pick up the pieces of his life. Walken is excellent and reins in his usual eccentricities (apart from one brief, shockingly hilarious outburst) for a subtle, restrained and heartbreaking portrayal akin to his award winning turn in The Deer Hunter. Johnny isn’t a warrior, cop, leader or hero, he’s just a quiet schoolteacher who finds himself thrown into this extraordinary situation and has to deal, and Walken’s shy, awkward and otherworldly presence brings this to life wonderfully. The film is shot in rural Ontario during wintertime and as such there’s an icy, eerie blanket of small town atmosphere over everything, made thicker by a beautiful Michael Kamen score that lays on the orchestral swells and quirky, spine chilling experimental cues in perfect musical symbiosis. This is King at his kindest, with an ending that although is appropriately bleak, still has a sorrowful heart to it and not his often cynical, hollow hearted touch. It’s also Cronenberg at his most character based, ditching the body horror to explore the psychological strain a phenomenon like this would exert and taking a long breath in his otherwise hectic, gooey career to compassionately explore a character alongside Walken who is a dark angel revelation as Smith. Sensational film.

-Nate Hill

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