The Dead Zone is actually pretty mild by David Cronenberg standards. No one is transformed into an insect, no heads explode, and no one gets into a naked knife fight. It’s just a story of a guy who’s cursed with clairvoyance and gets only further grief when he tries to use his powers for good. Serial killer subplot aside, there’s minimal gore.
Still, there are plenty of the Canadian director’s signature touches — the horrific car crash that gives Johnny (Christopher Walken) his powers, the medical horrors of his long and painful recovery, and the terrifying visions that Johnny sees from other people’s lives whenever he touches them. (He never sees anyone having a birthday party or winning the lottery.) Walken’s haunted face is the movie’s best special effect, of course, though it’s also fun to see a pre-West Wing Martin Sheen as a presidential candidate whose apocalyptic goals are secret to all but Johnny.
In a finale worthy of The Manchurian Candidate, Johnny gets to play out the what-if-you-could-have-killed-Hitler-in-1931 scenario, but things go awry in a way even Johnny can’t predict. The whole movie unfolds under a snowy, wintry chill that creates a sense, not of foreboding, but of mourning something that has already died.
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