Directed by David Cronenberg, 1983
David Cronenberg knows what the hell is up. Pound for pound he is the greatest North American auteur working today. Several of his films are in my all time favorites and I’d even go so far as to list The Fly in my top 5 horror films of all time. Needless to say, I respect the hell out of the man.
I’d been trying to round out his filmography, but ended up sitting on The Brood, Dead Ringers and The Dead Zone for over a month. Christine and I watched The Brood about a month back in a horror marathon and I just today got around to finishing out Dead Ringers and The Dead Zone.
And man do I love The Dead Zone.
I’ve never read the Stephen King novel the film is adapted from, so I can’t vouche for how faithful of a film it is, but I can’t imagine a better telling of this kick ass story; Johhny Smith (Christopher Walken) gets in a car crash and wakes up from a coma five years later with the ability to see into someone’s future (or sometimes past) if he touches their hand. The visions start out innocently enough. During treatment a nurse grabs his hand and he instantly sees her daughter trapped in a burning house. Later he sees his doctor’s seperation from his mother during WWII and tells him that she is still alive.
Word gets around about his ‘second sight’ and soon the town’s sheriff approaches him asking for his help in the investigation of a serial killer who has been operating while he was in his coma. Each vision is intense and believable. Nothing about it feels gimicky, even 20 years after the movie has come out and we’ve all seen glimpses into the future done countless times. They’re all trying to be The Dead Zone.
What works so damn well for the movie is that the story doesn’t follow just one, consistent plot thread, but is really a collection of events that build upon each other until the movie reaches a very natural and real conclusion. It isn’t about his ability, its about Johnny. Its about how it shapes his life. How it caused him to lose his fiance when he went into the coma and how he deals with just being friends with her when he awakens. Its all about agency. Its all about life choices. If you could change the future, even if it ment great sacrifice, would you?
Christopher Walken is so on in this movie. Cronenberg has always been able to work absolutely astonishing performances out of his actors and this is no different. He got best-of-career performances out of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Maria Bello in A History of Violence and Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone. He has a wonderful, hidden charm to him throughout the whole thing. He is perfectly believable as the man who just lost 5 years of his life in the blink of an eye. He hits all of his lines with perfect delivery and always surpressed fascination with life. You really feel for him during his highs and his lows and you are absolutely with him at the end of the movie. It’s great!
It isn’t a balls out horror film, but it certainly knows its roots. Cronenberg has an uncanny ability to coax the best out of material and create instantly memorable movies. The Dead Zone has just joined my list of favorite Cronenberg as well as favorite genre movies in general. It kicks ass.