EXPECTATIONS: All I know about The Crazies is that it's a remake of a George A. Romero film that I haven't gotten around to seeing yet. This is unfortunate because it means that instead of smugly ripping this movie apart by saying that it doesn't do the original justice, I have to judge the film on its own merits, y'know, like a real film critic and shit.
REALITY: Welcome to God's country. Real America. Where everyone knows everyone else, the year is divided up between hunting season and fishing season, and baseball is still unironically considered the national pastime.
Oh my God... those guys... they must be... "Crazy!"Everything seems perfect until a military airplane crashes into a nearby swamp (right into the narrow and shallow river, making sure not to damage any of the flora and fauna surrounding it) and releases a deadly chemical into the town's water supply. This transforms the locals into vicious psychopathic killers, which leads to the entire town having to be quarantined. Also, its residents had to be massacred in order to keep the secret from getting out to the public. Yeah, I hate it when that happens too.
Timothy Olyphant stars as David Dutton, the sheriff of sleepy Ogden Marsh, Iowa. As the chemical slowly takes the entire town under its tight stranglehold, David, his wife Judy (played by Radha Mitchell), and David's Deputy and friend Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) struggle to sneak out of town, fending off not only zombies, but also the military, frightened townspeople and murderous hillbillies (every horror movie nowadays needs at least one). These elements could have been the makings of a really sharp horror flick, but the end result feels rather underwhelming.
In an industry dominated by torture porn and rote slashers, The Crazies tries to be original (or at least it remakes a film that tried to be original). It wants to be a "sophisticated" horror film like John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly, both of which were also remakes, but instead it struggles to be as good as 30 Days of Night.
They blew it it up! They must be... "Crazy!"The biggest problem with The Crazies is that it's unable to break away from all the old staples of mainstream horror. The Crazies has more old hats than a flea market, all of which elicit more groans than genuine scares. The movie's moldy tricks include people wandering into dark places that no sane person would consider walking into, people peeping into keyholes only to be stared back at through the same keyhole, and -- my favorite -- someone creeping up from behind someone else and silently placing his/her hand on the person's shoulder. Seriously, who greets people like this? They should have given us a fake scare involving a cat; that way, I could have been completely unamused.
The Crazies also has trouble delivering quality action and creative kills. Only about two of the kills that happen in The Crazies are in any way noteworthy. There are a lot of opportunities for great action sequences, most of which are squandered in favor of drawn-out scenes of the characters moping and worrying about what they're going to do next. In an early scene, we see a huge swather, and the way it's filmed leads the audience to believe that it will come into play later, but it's never seen again. Remember on The Simpsons when Homer's Poochie character spends a whole Itchy and Scratchy episode talking and never lets Itchy and Scratchy get to the fireworks factory? That's what watching The Crazies feels like. There's so much wasted time spent listening to the characters talk that I was compelled to shout at the screen "All your problems can be solved by taking that swather and mulching up some zombies!"
In the film's defense, however, I will say that The Crazies gets all its technicals right. Director Breck Eisner does good work here. Jump cuts aren't abused, the low-key lighting never makes things too difficult to see, and there are even a few really sharp-looking shots. The cast also does a good job of making the material work. I particularly enjoyed Olyphant channeling his role as a small-town sheriff from Deadwood in a modern age.
Oh, hey! This is awkward... umm... pitchfork?
Best of all, however, are the zombies themselves. It's not particularly easy to make zombies interesting, because they're the most boring of movie monsters. They don't have all the personality of vampires or the exotic appeal of space aliens. When they're not eating flesh, they just shuffle around aimlessly, moaning loudly and looking confused like someone who just smoked some salvia. In The Crazies, the zombies are a bit more articulate. We see them organizing in groups, operating complex machinery (including turning a swather on -- but not using it) and even holding conversations in plain English. This breed of zombie is more interesting to watch, not only because of the element of unpredictability that intelligence adds to their behavior, but also because this gives them more character.
This film attempts to make a statement about humanity, forcing the audience to ponder whether we are all capable of committing acts of senseless cruelty when put in the right situation, be it by command of a superior, mob mentality, letting our fears get the best of us, or simply being pushed too far. Yeah, that's all deep and insightful, but this is a zombie flick, people, and I'd rather see someone else's brain get splattered against a wall than be forced to use mine. Give me action and excitement first, and maybe we can have an adult discussion about social sciences later.
MINORITY REPORT: This brought back an awful lot of confusing memories for me, mostly about the time that a local law enforcement official shot me dead when I got somewhat unruly after a perfectly ripping day of cricket. You see, I'd been served something of a rummy pie at the nearby catering stand, and I was sent into a fit of revulsions that ended in a certain amount of discombobulation and the deaths of more than 70 people. Surely I can't have deserved that? -Montague "Legally Sane" Smythe
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