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Wednesday, July 13, 2011



Title: Homecoming

Year of Release: 2005

Date Viewed: July 1st, 2011

MPAA Rating: Not Rated (Made for Television)

I won't claim to be an expert on politics or anything for that matter. But I enjoy my right to vote and take it seriously. Whenever there's an opportunity to have my voice heard on an issue no matter how big the mob, I'll take it so long as I feel my view is informative and fair enough. That's why it has hard to shake off the frustration from when I was denied the chance to vote in last year's mid-term elections. The reason is a long story which I won't get into but it basically involves a legal misunderstanding.

Homecoming is a short film created for the premium cable series Masters of Horror. It's loosely inspired by a short story written by Dale Bailey titled Death and Suffrage. I was intrigued to watch this episode because of the theme of denied suffrage with some hypothetical questions. The dead cannot vote because they have no life and therefore no voice. But what about the undead? And what if the undead are soldiers who died fighting to preserve our country's democracy? What are their rights? I know, I know. It's a ridiculous concept, but that's not the point.

In this story, the current president of the United States is responsible for initiating an overseas war that was met with divisive reaction at the homefront. Supporters insist the operation is necessary to defend America from foreign threats. Critics believe there are ulterior motives and that the troops are dying for no good reason. With Election Day just months away, presidential speechwriter David Murch (Jon Tenney) and political author Jane Cleaver (Thea Gill) campaign for their leader's re-election by appearing on nationally broadcasted talk shows to rally justification for the war and de-legitimize their opponents. During one fateful interview, the mother of a deceased soldier publicly criticizes the administration for allowing her son to die for what she believes is an unclear purpose. David consoles the woman with a bold claim. He says that if he was granted one wish, it would be to wish her son back so that he can tell everyone of the operation's importance. The President likes David's words so much that it becomes a part of his campaign speeches.

Just days later, the wish is granted but more than what was bargained for. Hundreds of deceased soldiers rise from their graves and return home to the country they served. But they are not out to make speeches or eat brains. They have returned for one reason; to submit an absentee ballot. The President's public relations team are initially delighted over this miraculous happening. They are confident that these brave men and women will recognize the value of their sacrifice and thus support their leader. But early results indicate a contrary intention. The soldiers are fighting to swing the vote in favor of any politician that promises to end the war and prevent anymore of their current soldiers from dying. Upon learning this, the President's team contradict their own propaganda by asserting that the undead soldiers should not be granted suffrage because they are legally dead. Soon there are more drastic measures taken. Some of the remaining soldiers that have yet to vote are being interned by government security. It's a zombie film so of course we know that won't last.

Even for the most casual followers of U.S. politics within the last ten years, what the story is really about should be obvious. Not only is this probably the most partisan Masters of Horror episode, it doesn't even count as horror. The tone is dominantly comedic. I didn't believe Sam Hamm's teleplay credit at first because I was half convinced it was written by one of my former sociology professors who was so openly far left that he was hilarious to listen to. If you find those type of people amusing, Homecoming might be worth a watch. A lot of hilarity is related to its near-complete absence of subtlety. Other moments such as the celebrity parodies are funny on their own. Jane Cleaver is a full-on sendup of right wing pundit Ann Coulter with an extra dose of insanity. An early scene shows Jane engaging in sexual foreplay with Jon by pouring hot candle wax all over him. I'd like to think that even the real Coulter wouldn't act this crazy but perhaps it's best to digress on that for now.

Some of Homecoming's more serious satire touches upon torture and the general public's treatment of veterans. A decapitated soldier is kept under close watch for government study. An officer observes that the zombie can never be killed and shoots it with his gun to prove the point. His aide reacts disapprovingly because the soldier can feel the pain. But the officer shrugs it off because his captive "signed up for it."

It's probably no coincidence that the movie's best scene is also the least partisan. Like a chapter from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a lone soldier is wandering around town unintentionally scaring all the passerbys because of his deformed appearance. A kind-hearted couple notice the soldier's presence and invite him into their diner for conversation and hospitality. They treat him like a son because he reminds them so much of their own son who is still serving overseas. This scene serves well to remind that while there is always a time and place for cynicism, it shouldn't replace the opportunity to commend selfless bravery.

On a purely technical scale, Homecoming has a lot of things going wrong very early. The political pundits become convinced of the soldiers' true agenda because of the sudden swift in early polling. Yet these guys should barely be making a footprint in a land populated by millions. The main premise is also deeply flawed. Only the soldiers who disagree with the war want to have their votes counted. The movie attempts to cover that hole by explaining that the ones who believed in the cause rest peacefully from a job well done. That makes as much sense as declaring that you'll stay home on Election Day because the current president is still the best man for the job.

There does come a point where veterans of other American wars begin to emerge from the graves. There are some good satirical possibilities in imagining how veterans of different generations would view the issues we face today. Instead there's a new angle to the infamous 2000 presidential election this time laced in straw man wrapping. It's very possible that some shady activities were indeed happening during that whole debacle. But nothing is as black-and-white as the movie wants to believe.

Even for those that disagree with the political message, I think it's hard to argue that Homecoming doesn't have its heart in the right place. It closely captures the frustrated "pro-military anti-commander" rhetoric coming from the left wing during this ongoing divisive era. The fatal fault is the unintentional exploitation of the very people the film tries to humanize. By insinuating that the uncounted votes of the deceased will sway an election, it unfairly categorizes viewpoints that can only be drawn by individuals and adds to the straw man tone that hurts the persuasive power.

Rating: 5     

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