Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) hunts down zombies on The Walking Dead.
Many high-profile articles tout the demise of quality mainstream filmmaking and the rise of television. It’s kind of an annoying cliché to say, “I don’t even go to the movies anymore, I just watch TV,” but I can also see the point. I am only required to see one movie in the theaters a month, and yet there are many times (like this month) where the lineup is unmistakably grim, even in Seattle, where I live. The theory goes that as studios have become more cautious, creative and adventurous directors and writers have been pushed into the open arms of AMC and HBO. HBO has long been a bastion of television drama, but AMC is perhaps even more remarkable, with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and now The Walking Dead (just out on DVD). Based on a moody graphic novel series, The Walking Dead is perhaps the best piece of horror storytelling since the original Let the Right One In.
I don’t really get the whole zombie craze. That said, the blankness of the comatose, cannibalistic lurchers allows the genre to be an effective metaphorical canvas. In The Walking Dead, constantly diminishing hope takes the main stage over the sci-fi horror elements. Basically, the show is about how we would live if everything fell apart, and given the tenuous, ominous tone of our times, this strikes a chord. The show begins with an upstanding cop, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), shot by a car-load of low-rent psychopaths. Rick goes into a coma and when he wakes up, the world has gone to hell. Corpses litter the streets and armies of walking dead pursue him. Rick miraculously finds his wife and son living with a rag-tag group of survivors in the hills outside Atlanta. From there the group must decide whether to stay in the relative safety of the hills or head to the CDC in Atlanta to look for a cure.
The Walking Dead separates itself from usual zombie fare by its haunting, spare tone. Writer Frank Darabont doesn’t use schlocky horror tricks like musical cues to heighten the tension, but lets the awful scene breathe on its own. This realistic approach allows some surprisingly moving and heartbreaking moments, where the pain of death and despair become palpably real. Although extremely gory (I can’t believe this show is on basic cable), The Walking Dead does not glamorize or fetishize violence. It presents the brutality of the situation and its awful consequences matter-of-factly, which leads to some sly gallows humor as well.
AMC has renewed The Walking Dead for a second season, which is wonderful news. The show gives us what a lot of new movies woefully lack—compelling narrative, moral complexity, wit, and emotional gravitas. A
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