The most surprising thing about the new horror film The Crazies, a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, is that the film is well made. Sure, the dialogue is trite, the characters are underdeveloped, the acting is sub-par, and the plot comes at you like notes in a game of "Guitar Hero," but the film is relentlessly entertaining, compelling, and above all, impeccably directed by Breck Eisner, son of Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
What remains the same between the original and the remake is the premise. A government plane crashes carrying a toxin that infiltrates a town’s water supply turning the mild-mannered townsfolk first into catatonic babblers and then into maniacal murderers, killing whomever they can. However, Breck Eisner has taken a few liberties. The original film was a low-budget B-level romp, taking place in Pennsylvania and focusing on both the survivors’ and the military’s perspective. Eisner’s version takes place in Iowa, and focuses on the government perspective entirely nil.
The film opens up in medias res upon the main street of this small Iowan town which is strewn with destruction until three chilling and predictable words appear on the screen: "Two days earlier." The opening credits roll over scenes of life in the small town set to the song "We’ll meet again," which is an obvious homage to the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s "Dr. Strangelove" where it is played over a montage of nuclear bomb explosions. The first actual scene of the movie follows a man in overalls who interrupts a baseball game when he walks onto the field with a gun. Sherrif David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is forced to shoot him when he cannot convince the man to put the gun down.
Across the town, Dutton’s wife (Radha Mitchell) sees a patient who is acting strangely. He seems unresponsive and repeats himself. Later, he locks his wife and child in a closet and burns down the house. Dutton and his deputy (Joe Anderson in a solid performance) figure out all too late that the water supply has been tainted by a downed military aircraft. The military moves in and quarantines the entire town in what is ominously called a "containment protocol."
From there, the movie turns into a survival romp following Dutton, his wife, and his deputy, as they go from cheap thrill to cheap thrill trying to escape to the nearest town and out of the reach of the military. During that time, there are some fun sequences, including a carwash scene and a rather blood-curdling scene involving a particular crazy with a pitchfork and a roomful of strapped-down hospital patients. For all of Romero’s initial ingenuity, this is still very much a standard zombie flick, only here the zombies are alive instead of undead, and have a penchant for standing and staring.
Okay, so it doesn’t sound like much, and don’t be mistaken, it isn’t much, but the movie is a perfect example of a genre film. It doesn’t explore. It doesn’t postulate. It doesn’t provoke. All it does is try to scare and move the plot along between each scare, and this it does superbly. There isn’t a boring moment in the entire film from the fast-paced beginning to the delightfully satisfying end. Sure, the movie is crap, but it’s the kind of crap that you can’t help but watch. Breck Eisner is not alone in making this watchable. The editing and cinematography are excellent and wasted on this kind of a script.
One real criticism is that with a story like this, Breck Eisner could have subtly explored the idea of dying alone, of loyalty, of the nature of sanity, and of the role of government in society, but all hints at those paths are shunted aside once a crazy mortician attacks Dutton with a circular saw. Still, the good thing about a movie like this is that it shows that Breck Eisner has the capacity to direct well, and eventually, should the right script fall into his lap, he will make an excellent film that isn’t just good despite its stupid story.
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Joe Anderson, Rahda Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker
Distributor: Overture Films
Running Time: 101 mins