Review: Dead Air (18) / Director: Corbin Bernsen / Screenplay: Kenneth Yakkel / Starring: Bill Moseley, Patricia Tallman, Navid Negahban, Josh Feinman, David Moscow / Release Date: Out Now
Two men sit in a radio studio late at night, trading friendly insults, spouting inane banter and casually mocking their at-home audience. But enough about the Starburst radio show (Just joshin', guys… Guys??)… This is Dead Air, a straight-to-DVD zombie flick (hooray!!) which threatens to evoke memories of the ghastly overrated Pontypool from a few years back but eventually mutates into something a bit gutsier and, despite its rather heavy-handed and simplistic borderline racist tub-thumping, really quite exciting.
Moseley and Moscow play a couple of shock jocks at an LA radio station, broadcasting through the night and discussing the nature of paranoia to a very particular radio audience when news reports start to filter in of violent civil unrest. Terrorists have attacked a string of sports stadiums across the country with a biological weapon which has turned its victims into…. well, let’s face it, they’re zombies really aren’t they? The affected become rabid rampaging killers, bleeding from the eyes and, at first, bludgeoning their victims to death before tearing them apart. Towards the end of the movie though, all bets are off as they’re biting chunks out of the living in the style of every other zombie in every other zombie film.
Former LA Law star Corbin Bernsen has made a decent fist of his attempt at a zombie movie. Dead Air is undeniably low budget but it thinks big; it near enough delivers on its DVD sleeve promise of hordes of crazed zombies rushing through the streets in scenes outside the confines of the radio station where we actually, if briefly, see crowds of deranged killers chasing and overwhelming their victims. Yakkel’s script ramps up the tension as Moseley’s grizzled, cynical DJ Logan Burnhardt and slowly his crew realise that all’s not well in the outside world and barricade themselves in the station to avoid the chaos. Fears that this would lead to a dull, claustrophobic retread of the already-dull Pontypool are quickly assuaged when the security of the radio station is eventually breached and Logan’s co-presenter takes to his motorcycle and cruises the streets in an effort to reach Logan’s wife, trapped in the family home with their young son. Meanwhile the terrorists responsible for the atrocity are on the run too, and before long they find themselves seeking refuge in the radio station and it’s soon clear that even they haven’t escaped the effects of their own attack.
Dead Air is at its best when it gives us what we really want from zombie films; scenes of snarling, bloodied, demented undead (and the film’s to be applauded for at lead trying to avoid the usual zombie clichés even if it succumbs to the inevitable eventually) and it only starts to come off the rails when Logan is confronted by the last of the terrorists and the film decides to go a bit soap-boxy, moralising about the nature of terrorism and the evils of war. Here is becomes clear that Dead Air is the work of people still bruised and jittered by the events of 9/11 and who have chosen the most obvious of horror scenarios to make some clumsy and lumpy parallels with real world events. It’s arguable too that the film goes too far when Logan, held at gunpoint by the surviving terrorist, broadcasts hair-raisingly racist opinions about the Middle East to what remains of his audience; it’s done for a dramatic purpose, of course, part of the terrorist plot to foster continued hatred between the West and the East, but it still feels uncomfortable in a film which, to all intents and purposes, is a bit of escapist nonsense about a zombie apocalypse.
Tonal misgivings aside, Dead Air is an enjoyably hokey experience which doesn’t offer much we haven’t seen before but is inventive enough and has enough going on to lift it head-and-shoulders above similar micro-budget efforts in a horribly-overcrowded DVD marketplace.