The Campaign is probably the most powerful horror film that I have seen all year. You may well think that I’m joking here, that I’m playing with the irony of inverting genre’s but in this instance I’m actually not; I stand by that point like a Politician does a promise. In the simplest sense this film is good horror because it both shocks and sickens you several times a scene. It has you leaning forward dramatically in your seat whispering ‘Don’t do it!’ in your mind as certain scenes start to coalesce, then when it becomes obvious that they will in fact do ‘it’ you wither back against the headrest resigned, almost wanting to cover your eyes for what is to come.
But it doesn’t stop there, the film keeps pushing, unapologetically introducing unimaginably abject ideas and images into your mind without consent. Eventually it offers obvious catharsis, so you get up to leave the cinema feeling calm, but in the back of your mind that sense of malice remains. There is something haunting about the experience, of course it’s also hilarious, mostly hilarious in fact, but then you already knew that didn’t you? Honestly though with Ferrell involved I don’t see that there is all that much of a difference between the two genres except tome and technical execution, their tenors are twin.
The most horrifying thing about the movie though is its truthiness. All of those other Ferrell / McKay movies ( Anchorman, Semi-Pro, Talladega Nights, etc. ) make fun of their chosen arena by exacerbating elements of it beyond belief – an extension of their comedic style, in which they take elements of a scene and extend them to similar lengths – but their depiction of American Politics is soberingly accurate and authentic. Of course the main reason that this occurs isn’t that they’ve attempted to go straight or create something serious, but because the current state of US democracy is so damned ludicrous in real life.
In many ways Jay and McKay have inadvertently made a very important film here, coming as it does smack bang in the center contemporary polite Olympic Equivalent, the Presidential finals. McKay and his able and willing stars – Galifianakis, Ferrell’s own Eve Harrington, was obviously involved in shaping his character; unlike in The Hangover the comedic voice here is his own – squeeze every last joke out of their jaunty, old-school set-up – a small town nobody stands up to shiny political star in their local election – but fail to even once strain credulity. No matter how distasteful the dirt they sling, how seriously short-sighted the attack ad, or poorly veiled the verbal diarrhea they spew on screen there is a real life example out there that is even stranger still. Politics may simply be too silly to spoof.
Thankfully then director Jay Roach, of Game Change and Recount fame, obviously understood this and spent some time determining which actual issues to lampoon and the stance that they would take in these scenes. Now don’t worry, this isn’t even at a Daily Show level of informative, it’s just not empty formula. The story is one worth telling – the galling corruption and gentrification politicians undergo in order to win an election, to stay alive as it were – and the scenes within it stem from their inherent satire (See: Rainbowland ( Not that it’s a real place)) rather than any imagined riff or sillily outfitted set-piece and I for one found that approach admirable. Ferrell’s films are often described as being ‘stupid, but still pretty funny’ but for once I think only the latter doth apply.
Yes, again I will say that it is a very funny film because that is all that most are interested in, but for me it’s more important to be clear that it is funny in a large number of ways, sliding across the humour scale from smart to slapstick with earned ease. So come Saturday night if you want to sit back and unwind then I, Deer in the Xenon-Arc Lights, both approve and support this movie as your choice of catharsis. You will laugh and laugh and laugh at these ludicrous little men, their malicious tactics and the men and women of the public that eat them up but then you will realize – what a twist! – that this isn’t set in a dystopia, that it may as well be a documentary. That is when you will have that short shot play in your mind of the monster’s eye opening, when the realization occurs, the horror…the horror.