Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dead Air (2009)

If you’ve ever been involved in any sort of disaster, natural or man-made, I’m sure you remember the details vividly. From the unsettling first seconds to the terrifying moments that seem to stretch on forever to the panic that settles in once the dust cleared, any kind of catastrophe is hard too forget! For example, I can clearly remember being in a large earthquake as a kid (it was freaky!) and I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. There is just no way to ever forget those feelings of dread and fear.

Well, the film Dead Air taps into the feelings of panic, loss and chaos that occur during a sudden catastrophe. Except that this catastrophe isn’t just any natural disaster, but an organized terrorist bio-attack in every major city in the United States that infects its victims and turns them violent and dangerous. Did I mention it also has the power to bring them back from the dead?

Enter shock jock DJ Logan (Bill Moseley) as he hosts another late-night show on the air. He is joined in the studio by his co-host Gil (David Moscow), producer Lucy (Patricia Tallman) and tech Burt (Joshua Feinman). In the midst of their broadcast, they begin getting strange calls from listeners saying that all hell has broken loose. Apparently, terrorists have targeted major U.S. cities and released some kind of bio-toxin into the air, turning victims extremely violent and even resurrecting them after death. As Logan grapples with the severe situation unfolding outside and across the U.S. while delivering any information to his listeners, he also must face that fact that he is separated from his family by hordes of the infected. He doesn’t only have the infected to fear, though, because the terrorists who released the toxin in his city are converging on the radio station as well…

Dead Air is directed by Corbin Bernsen, probably best known in horror for his role in The Dentist. Bernsen delivers a tense, smart and scary horror film that taps into American’s fears of terrorist attacks. Though the infected in the film are vicious, fast and blood-thirsty, the action is more focused on Logan and what happens inside the radio station. This gives the film a more psychologically terrifying feel as we listen to callers who talk to Logan as beg for help while they are chased by zombie hordes. There is also a whole angle on Logan trying to reach his wife and child on the phone, hoping that they are safe, while debating to leave the safety of the radio station to go search for them. I also enjoyed the side story that followed the terrorists who planted the bomb in Logan’s town as they sought refuge in the radio station building. Kudos to writer Kenny Yakkel, as all of these different tenets led to a very suspenseful, enjoyable film.

Also adding to the success of the film was Bill Moseley’s layered performance as Logan. He first comes off as a prick, as most shock-rock DJ’s are wont to be, but when the excrement hits the fan he shows compassion and concern for his fellow Americans. We also see his strong dedication to his family and how well he performs under pressure. The rest of the cast do a great job as well, and it was a joy seeing Patricia Tallman (Night of the Living Dead remake) in a genre film again! I also enjoyed David Moscow’s portrayal as Logan’s slapstick sidekick and how his demeanor went from kooky to courageous as events unfolded.

Of course, your first reaction to hearing zombies and radio station under siege is to think of the great film Pontypool, but though their descriptions are similar Dead Air is slightly different in terms of tone. Dead Air tackles some heavier issues of discrimination, racism and our biased views on Muslims and people of Middle Eastern lineage. It also plays upon our fears and paranoia (an issue that Logan is discussing on-air when all hell breaks loose). Unfortunately, while this social relevance to current issues really amped up my interest in the film, some people may find the messages somewhat heavy-handed. And by the third act of the film it becomes so heavy-handed that it feels like someone is bludgeoning you with a phone book. I, for one, enjoyed the social commentary, though, and even the bland third act couldn’t really disrupt my love for this movie.

Dead Air is an intelligent horror film that really shouldn’t be overshadowed by its shallow similarities to Pontypool. It offers many smart observations on people’s motivations and human nature in response to chaos and keeps you on your toes with its engaging storyline and varied characters. I’m not sure why its release was delayed so long (it was supposed to see a nation-wide theatrical release in 2007 but was only just released straight-to-DVD recently), but it’s well worth your time!

Order it on Amazon!

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