Thursday, October 18, 2012

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #8: Homecoming

Just as Dario Argento and John Carpenter enjoyed something of a renaissance with their work for ‘Masters of Horror’ after, respectively, a period of creative asininity and a period of inactivity, so too Joe Dante delivered something pretty damn good after working fairly consistently in TV but not producing anything of note. Like Argento and Carpenter, Dante directed two episodes of the series. His season one offering, ‘Homecoming’, was one of the show’s high points.

At once a zombie film, a morality tale and a political satire – kind of like ‘Day of the Dead’ meets ‘Bob Roberts’ based on a treatment by the Brothers Grimm – it’s sharply scripted, deftly directed and studs its often hilariously funny narrative with occasional and genuinely poignant grace notes.

Our protagonist is David Murch (Jon Tenney), a political publicist trying to whip up some patriotic fervour as the incumbent and avowedly pro-military president fights a re-election campaign. POTUS – such as Murch breathlessly refers to the prez on every possible occasion – is never named, but seems to be an amalgam of Clinton and Bush the younger. During a live TV debate with a woman who’s lost her son in an overseas campaign, Murch corpses on air as he remembers his long-dead brother, himself a vet. He struggles to recover, assuring the grieving mother that “I wish I could bring them all back”.

Murch thinks he’s blow his credibility, but the president is delighted and starts using the phrase in speeches. All of sudden Murch is the Capital Hill golden boy and attracts power-hungry pundit Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill), who sees him as her ticket into the administrative inner sanctum. Opinion polls are up and the re-election looks like it’s in the bag. Then something unexpected happens: soldiers who were killed in action start coming back from the dead. And they want to vote.

The political satire boils down to one joke, casually sustained: what if the people you’d really fucked off – the people who’d died on your watch – could still punch that ballot paper? It’s bolstered by two good performances. Tenney portrays Murch as human Teflon, a man wedded to his mobile phone and thinking more moves ahead that your average chess champion. Visiting a cemetery with his elderly mother, he tries to be deferential by not answering his perpetually bleating phone; the look on his face as he virtually has to force himself not to reach for it like a gunslinger going for his pistol is priceless. Gill plays Cleaver as a comic-book Machiavellian seductress, va-va-voom and a brutal lack of sentiment bundled together in a short skirt and a pair of killer heels.

The zombies – keep an eye out for the names on the headstones when they claw they way out of their graves – are perhaps the cleanest, least maggoty bunch of the undead that pop culture has given us. There’s a wonderful scene where a young man, his life obviously thrown away in a pointless conflagration before it had really begun, plunders into a pizza parlour. The owner and his wife sit him down – he reminds them of their son, also overseas – and begin the slow process of communicating with him. He presents no threat to them, and vice versa. The family dog sidles up to him, also aware there’s no danger, and is duly fussed. It’s a lovely moment, unforced and not overly-sentimentalised. And quite apposite for a film where the only danger from a zombie infestation is to the politicians they can turf out of office.

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