Half of this post will be mostly me chickening out of grandiose statements. I’m not alone in what I’m gonna say, but I still don’t feel comfortable writing it. And note that I haven’t seen the original for comparison, and that I have a short list of DVD’s I’ve yet to see so the original version of this movie’s on the bottom of the list. Anyway, here goes.
Everyone else has pretty much said that this is a zombie movie without zombies. Stark realism, yadda. Instead of seeing sub-humans walking with their hands in front of them, the film shows the sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Oliphant) shooting his neighbor and bearing the consequences of doing so. The film also shows a man killing his wife and child rendered more as familial abuse than a zombie’s act. Horror is masculine camp in a way that you’re expecting a monster that you know doesn’t exist, and in turn you’re scared like you’re shrieking in a roller coaster ride. When you witness realistic events in a movie while expecting to watch fantastical ones, you’re more uncomfortable than scared. Not necessarily a bad thing.
What adds to my discomfort is the political message of the film. It’s subtly presented (no speeches, etc.), but I can still see it, and since I’m on the one side of the spectrum I’m worried about those who might watch this movie representing the opposite. The crazies are toting guns and killing their wives because they’re drinking government Kool-Aid water by mistake. And since Ogden Marsh, Iowa is already crazy, the government doesn’t wanna be accountable and wants to kill off the town, shooting family members in front of each other, and does so except for our sheriff and his doctor wife (Radha Mitchell). Familiar.
The film also follows the Romero formula of scary stuff, a few people try to get away, they have misadventures, scary stuff follow them for a final showdown. With the Duttons is the sheriff’s gun-toting but altruistic deputy and a great teenage screamer, all four competently presented as complex gender archetypes. It’s acceptable enough of a formula, but what it’s used against kinda peeves me.