Breck Eisner’s The Crazies is a film that makes no bones about what it is. I had expected another run-of-the-mill horror film going in, but left the theatre pleasantly surprised. The Crazies is a tightly wound ball of suspense that will manage to unsettle and entertain you. The film is loosely based on George Romero’s 1973 movie of the same name; that film focused on both the civilian and military response to a deadly outbreak in a small town. Like Romero’s other work the film contained timely social commentary, in this case the film was a satire of the Vietnam War. The 2010 version of The Crazies is a little different, with the focus on squarely on the civilians, their dealings with the infected and the brutal military containment of the town. Now I’m sure you could draw out some kind of analogy relating to the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, but if there is any underlying message it doesn’t feel nearly as ham-handed as some of Romero’s efforts. The Crazies is a rare example of a Hollywood horror film that is not only a good genre film, but a pretty decent flick period. Unlike many other horror films, you’ll feel invested in the movie and actually root for the characters to survive.
Spoilers to follow.
Welcome to picture perfect Ogden Marsh, an ordinary farming community in rural Iowa. This is a town where nothing really exciting ever happens, and that’s just the way the residents like it. Here we meet the local Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town doctor. When a local man unexpectedly shows up to a high school baseball game wielding a shotgun, Sheriff Dutton is forced to shoot him in self-defense. In the wake of this incident, more townsfolk begin to acting strangely; what was another painfully normal Spring in Ogdgen Marsh slowly begins turning into a nightmare for the residents. As things spiral out of control, Dutton and his Deputy (Joe Anderson) discover that a military aircraft containing a biological weapon recently crashed into the reservoir, contaminating the local water supply. Before the two are able to warn the residents the military cordons off the town and begin rounding up the infected families with brutal efficiency.
Small towns are generally kind of creepy, more so when their residents are all homicidal maniacs. The Crazies latches on to that small town paranoia and runs with it; your friends, your family, your neighbours and coworkers all have the frightening capacity to commit horrible acts of violence, you just don’t know it yet. One thing I really liked about The Crazies was how well it was shot; it’s not something I usually even consider when watching a horror film. This is likely thanks to cinematographer and horror veteran Maxime Alexandre (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes), he makes the most of the open spaces provided by the mid-Western United States. Every location is transformed by the outbreak, the more mundane the locale, the more sinister it becomes: A massacre in the schoolyard; murderers at the truckstop; psychotic mayhem at a carwash! You’ll never look at a small town the same way. The Crazies has been marketed as a zombie film, which is only half true. The characters spend more time worrying about the military than their infected former friends and neighbours. The film is true to its survival-horror roots though, there are definitely some very intense, claustrophobic scenes involving the eponymous crazies. However, I found the prospect of my own government trying to hunt and kill me for reasons beyond my control far more frightening than any crazed infected maniacs could ever be. A maniac you can fight. A heavily armed gunship or a nuclear weapon, not so much.
Anyone who watched HBO’s Deadwood knows that Timothy Olyphant is perhaps one of the most underrated and under-utilized actors working today. Olyphant has had a pretty storied career so far, he’s been involved in some great projects and some real stinkers. However, its roles like Sheriff Dutton in The Crazies that remind you of what a solid actor he is. Olyphant really deserves to be a bigger star than he is. The same is true of Radha Mitchell, who has carved out a niche for herself in the horror genre. Mitchell is a talented actress who brings a lot to any project she’s involved with, particularly this one. Both Olyphant and Mitchell are great as a husband and wife who are pillars of their small community. Thrust into an unimaginable situation they’re both very believable; there are no heroes in The Crazies, what makes the viewer sympathize with the Dutton family is the fact that they’re so average.
The Crazies is one of the better horror films Hollywood has produced in a long time. The film executes its disturbing premise very well and doesn’t cop out on the ending. It’s not overly gorey, but still manages to get under your skin. You can’t really ask for much more from this kind of film, it’s a prime example of horror done right. If they have to keep remaking George Romero movies, I’ll be glad if they turn out as well as The Crazies.