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dir Breck Eisner
scr Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
prd Michael Aguilar, Rob Cowan, Dean Georgaris
with Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby, Preston Bailey, John Aylward, Joe Reegan, Glenn Morshower, Larry Cedar, Gregory Sporleder
release US/UK 26.Feb.10
10US Paramount 1h41
Get outta town: Anderson, Olyphant, Mitchell and Panabaker
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
As far as unnecessary remakes go, this revamp of the 1973 George A Romero B-movie thriller is actually pretty good fun, thanks to sharp direction, a strong cast and some extremely unnerving touches.
In a small Iowa farming community, Sheriff David (Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Dr Judy (Mitchell) are perplexed by the odd behaviour of the townsfolk, who begin losing their minds and acting out violently against each other. Then David and his deputy (Anderson) discover a mysterious crashed plane nearby, followed by an invasion of government containment officials who round up the residents and separate them into groups of infected and healthy. But something's still not right, and the craziness only escalates.
Eisner directs the film with a sure hand, adeptly building suspense in each scene by letting us glimpse the impending threat before things leap out at us. Which they do, constantly. The result is a horror romp that's actually frightening for a change, even as it gets increasingly ludicrous. And it helps hugely that the script takes time to establish the characters along the way, which gives even the corniest plot points a whiff of meaning.
Olyphant, Mitchell and Anderson are a terrific central trio, each with enough personality and spark that we care what happens to them. Everyone else is defined by one or two simple elements, and it's rather nice that there's not an overt villain to the piece (beyond the overreacting government), although there are some story points that cycle around and keep coming back to haunt our heroes. And a few nice surprises along with the contrived dramatics.
But then, any depth or complexity are clearly in service of the gonzo mayhem, which involves a lot of guns, explosions and heavily made-up infected maniacs plotting all manner of unpleasantness for their former friends and neighbours. And things do indeed get deeply nasty, with a lot of gratuitously grisly violence, sudden death and carnage on a mass scale. So it's surprising that the filmmakers miss one final trick that would have given the story a blackly witty final kick.* But then, you can't have everything.
* Highlight the following text [spoiler alert!]: The newscast in the final credits should have blamed the conflagration on a terrorist dirty-bomb, rather than a rather anodyne factory accident.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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