I recently, with absolutely no intention of doing so, watched a couple of films starring Australian actress Radha Mitchell, and so decided to go for the hat trick.
The Crazies (2010)
Remake of a 1973 offering from George A. Romero, and a zombie film in all but name. There isn’t much in the way of a plot. The idyllic Iowa community of Ogden Marsh falls victim to a biological weapon when a military plane crashes and contaminates the water supply. The great majority of the town’s people are transformed into crazies with a homicidal bent. It’s up to Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant), wife Dr. Judy (Radha), and a couple of others, to band together and survive, while hunted by the crazies and shoot on sight soldiers sent to clear up the military’s mess, and of course there is also the danger of one or more of their party “turning”. There isn’t really much to say about this. The nice people are nice, and the nasty people would also be nice if it weren’t for the effects of Trixie (cute name for a biological weapon), while the people at the top of the military chain of command are truly nasty, but justify it as doing what is necessary. The cast play their parts well, albeit there’s nothing here to really challenge them, with the best performance coming from Joe Anderson as Deputy Russ, fighting to keep it together as the virus infects him. There are some violent set pieces, though nothing to merit an “18” certificate, and moments of excitement, tension, but the greater theme of military and government corruption seems to be there simply as an excuse for all the alarums and excursions, bloodshed and mayhem. I enjoyed it while I watched it, but suspect I will have forgotten all about it in a couple of months. Fast food horror, satisfying but only on its own terms and for those with low expectations. I haven’t watched the Romero original, but from the description on Wikipedia it sounds a lot more ambitious and challenging.
And, in parenthesis, it felt slightly surreal to watch this on Tuesday evening and then wake up on Wednesday morning to find the US had elected Donald Trump as President. Crazies indeed, though you can’t blame toxic shit in the water.
London Has Fallen (2016)
Radha’s character was pregnant in The Crazies and she is pregnant here, as Leah Banning, the wife of security expert Mike (Gerard Butler). It’s a mainly decorative role, with the character appearing only in two book end scenes of domesticity, presumably as an affirmation of the values the good guys uphold and a signifier of hope for the future, offering a more personal approach to resonate and balance the political preaching. The main thrust of the film, a sequel to 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen (which I haven’t seen, but suspect was pretty much the same formula set in a different location), has world leaders lured to London to attend the state funeral of the UK’s Prime Minister. Terrorists blow up several major London landmarks and kill half a dozen world leaders, but thanks to the skills and expertise of Mike Banning the US President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is kept safe. With the local security forces either ineffective or compromised, and a large number of heavily armed terrorists after them, with the avowed intention of beheading the President and broadcasting the execution on the internet, Banning and Asher fight to survive. I guess it’s fair to say that I enjoyed this while watching it. It’s a pulse pounding, action heavy film, with plenty of fire fights and adrenaline rush moments, and on that level works superbly well. But of course, even as you’re watching it you realise how silly it all is. A small bunch of heavily armed terrorists infiltrate the state funeral of the Prime Minister and turn our capital city into a no-go area, while the UK security forces are ineffective/conspicuous by their absence, but one lone Yank with a machine pistol has no problem blowing the bad guys away. The US President is an action man, a warrior in an expensive suit, while reality tells us that most politicos are bloated windbags (yes, some Trump resentment coming through there). It is a somewhat ridiculous and jingoistic story, with credibility issues that make the antics of the vest wearing Bruce Willis of Die Hard fame seem entirely plausible by comparison. It could have been more interesting if they’d made any serious attempt to address the concerns of the terrorists, their reasons for acting as they do, but basically they’re just comic cutout bad guys with an unreasonable grudge against western values (and yes, I believe in those values too, but let’s not blind ourselves to other viewpoints or pretend those who hold them are all just bad guys). Perhaps inappropriately, the thing I took away from the film, is what a marvellous President Morgan Freeman would make (here he is just the VP, but as portrayed embodies most of what I understand by the word statesman).
The Darkness (2016)
Supposedly based on a true event, this is the film that I found the most satisfying of these three. Though the Taylors seem the perfect family group when we first meet them, it is soon revealed that they are borderline dysfunctional. Husband Peter (Kevin Bacon) had an affair and wife Bronny (Radha) is understandably resentful and drinking too much when she suffers stress. Daughter Stephanie is vomiting up food and storing it in containers beneath her bed, and constantly complains about the way in which the family molly coddles her younger brother autistic Mikey. On a family trip into the desert, Mikey discovers a hidden cave. Subsequently he acquires an invisible friend called Jenny, and strange phenomena start to manifest at the Taylor household. Handprints appear on walls, mirrors, and Stephanie’s body, while minatory animals – a crow, a snake, a coyote – are seen in the house. Bronny does online research, and fears that Mikey has come into contact with evil spirit entities once worshipped and then feared by the Anasazi Indians. Peter isn’t convinced until there is too much evidence for him to deny, which is when they call in an Indian shamaness or exorcist to take care of business. The Anasazi variation aside, the main plotline is pretty much the old one about demonic possession and children in peril, but that variation does add an extra frisson, while the barrage of special effects are done with panache and have some novel touches. The characters are all engaging, fully rounded, and well-played by the cast, with the family tensions giving extra oomph to the narrative thrust. And, for bonus points when comparing to the other two films, nobody got blasted away by a shotgun and you didn’t have the feeling that most of the people were simply shreddies. I wouldn’t rate it a classic horror film and I’m in no hurry to watch it again, but I did enjoy The Darkness and thought it admirably entertaining, mostly because of the characters (special shout out to David Mazouz as Mikey, who conveys a sense of disconnection, shot through with a childlike innocence). I liked it.