Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Crazies (2010)

'The Crazies’ is a prime example of a remake done right. It is very faithful to George A. Romero’s film of 1973 but at the same time, it is very much its own movie. 

Set in the small American town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa it tells the familiar horror tale of an outbreak crisis. Life in the quiet little town is upset when during a school baseball game a local man walks onto the field armed with a shotgun. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) shoots him in self-defence. The rest of the town’s population then starts to act strangely, as they are slow to respond to questions and are repetitive in their answers. The next night a local farmer kills his wife and son by locking them in a closet and burning down their house. The day after hunters find the dead body of a pilot in a marsh. David and Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) go looking for the crashed plane and find the wreckage beneath the river. David concludes that whatever is inside the plane has leaked into the town’s water supply and is causing a disease that makes people extremely aggressive. 

Turning the water supply off manually after a refusal from the mayor David and his pregnant wife Judy (Randa Mitchell) the town’s doctor then try to figure out how to help the people and stop the virus from spreading. However, before they get the chance to do so the military sweeps in to control the situation. Now the whole town has gone bat shit crazy with a full-blown pandemic and they have become hideous looking “crazies”. The soldiers round up the town’s people executing the infected and quarantining the rest. It turns out that the plane was carrying a military biological weapon a toxin called ‘Trixie’. David, Judy, Russell and Judy’s employee Becca Darling (Danielle Panabaker) then fight for survival to get out of town against not just the crazies but also the threat of the army.

While the previous film had two narratives from the points of view of both the battling survivalists and the military, this movie chronicles the terrifying plight of the four protagonists. The original’s scenes of horror were effectively disturbing in portraying the psychological breakdown of madness but this film goes for all out scares, suspense and thrills. The horror set-pieces are frightening and tense and never go over the top with gore galore. Although there is gore present it is just not of the overly splatter kind. However, it is a very violent movie as the kills just have a disturbing impact in their execution with the emphasis on realism. Aided well for the reality of the terror is strong performances (something that was completely missing from Romero’s film) from Olyphant, Mitchell and Anderson. They treat the material seriously and never give into the temptation to overact to the threats in the same said set-pieces. The most standout-terrifying scene takes place in a car wash.

The editing of these sequences in what is a visually impressive movie avoids the migraine inducing MTV style bullshit that has been seen so many times in horror these days, i.e. the later Saw films. Even when the action of these scenes is at its most frantic, you will have no problem in making out what is going on. Unfortunately, excessively too much the movie also relies a lot on fake jump scares and musical stings.  

Aiding the strong key performances is some equally strong characterization for these core characters from a script by Ray Wright (‘Pulse’ and ‘Case 39’) and Scott Kosar (‘The Amityville Horror’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ remakes). Those mentioned past works range from mediocre to just terrible but they pull off a solid piece of writing here. In the third act, we get into some real human drama. During their fight to survive, the group becomes intensely paranoid of each other about who might have the virus. This is all very faithful to the original film with the slightest sign of a possible symptom being a potential threat. David’s deputy and best friend Russell starts to show major symptoms of the sickness and becomes progressively more aggressive, short tempered and trigger-happy. This becomes a very tense situation. Olyphant and Anderson have a strong on screen chemistry together as does Olyphant with Mitchell as husband and wife knowing they have to fight not just for themselves but also for their unborn child. Panabaker is competent in the minimal role she is given. 

The characterization of the soldiers is minimal - sinister, faceless, almost inhuman like and decked out in dark combat uniforms and vac suits. They take the town’s people from their homes and coldly shoot them dead and burn the corpses for the purposes of quarantine. These scenes and the sequences inside the military quarantine serve as some of the film’s most chilling moments.

The Crazies are demon like in their physical appearance. This is opposed to the normal unassuming look of the infected in the original movie where the disease would take longer to reach fruition and it was difficult to tell who was sick and who was not. Here the toxin takes a short period to reach full effect and the people become monsters in the literal sense. Nevertheless, as this remake emphasizes on horror entertainment rather than a psychological study of the decent into madness it works well. 

Lacking much of the social sub-text of Romeo’s original director Breck Eisner’s approach is purely to entertain and he delivers in spades. I am not though saying that the film does not have anything to say or is any less faithful to the earlier movie for emphasizing upon entertainment. Like the first movie, it employs a tone of despair throughout all the way to the very bleak end. While it does not bring political satire to the forefront like its predecessor which was a damming view of government and military incompetence there is some humour thrown in at the military’s and media’s expense. Check out the Easter egg scene during the end credits. It is with this that this update is faithful to the concerns raised in Romero’s film with America still as distrustful of its government as it was back then in 1973. Like the original, this version is a realization of that but set in these modern times of terrorism. 

As well as being another remake of a George A. Romero movie, ‘The Crazies’ shares another connection with Zack Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004). The latter mentioned film had an opening title sequence featuring the song ‘When the Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash. Here it is Cash’s rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ during an opening sequence introducing the audience to the town of Ogden Marsh. Maybe the man in black is a good omen for Romero remakes because while it is not quite as successful artistically as that movie ‘The Crazies’ is a very solid effort in the remake field. It is a well-made horror with a pace that rarely drags. Along with the other said Romero redux, Tobe Hooper’s ‘Toolbox Murders’ (2004), ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (2009) and two of the Wes Craven updates ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (2004) and ‘The Last House on the Left’ (2009) it is one of the better horror remakes since the turn of the century.

*** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson 

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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