MOVIE REVIEW: THE CRAZIES (2010)
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson
Directed by Breck Eisner
Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the original version of The Crazies (1973). I have a vague recollection of trying to watch it about a decade ago and being bored stiff, to the extent that I had to stop the movie 15 minutes in for fear of having to rip my eyes out of my head. And indeed, having spoken to a friend about it in the wake of seeing this remake, he confirmed what I have heard from others: that the original is a great idea poorly executed. In other words, the perfect film to be remade.
That idea is pretty simple: the residents of Ogden Marsh, a picturesque American town, start going crazy for no ostensible reason. Soon enough, Sheriff David Dutton (Olyphant: A Perfect Getaway) and his deputy Russell Clank (Anderson: The Ruins) find their town under siege by locals infected by a mysterious virus and Hazmat-suited soldiers hoping to contain the contagion.
Working from a script written by Scott Kosar (The Machinist) and Ray Wright (Pulse), director Breck Eisner (Sahara), until recently attached to direct the Creature From the Black Lagoon remake, fulfills much of the promise of George A. Romero’s original. A solid budget means we get to see the full extent of the virus’s destructive capacity, from a downed military aircraft to a high school turned into a military operation to a devastated Ogden Marsh burning.
It also helps that Eisner has such a solid cast. Olyphant and Anderson are especially strong, and although neither of their characters is particularly well fleshed out, we still empathize with their plights. And it’s always a pleasure to see Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black) in a Hollywood film.
Not surprisingly, The Crazies, like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, jettisons most of the political underpinnings of Romero’s work. So where early-1970s concerns about environmental damage and Vietnam seemed to have informed the original Crazies, this version makes only passing reference to current anxieties about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As one soldier Dutton interrogates says regarding the killing of Ogden Marsh’s residents by the military, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”
Leaving aside that baggage, the new Crazies is a cracking horror thriller which builds genuine tension and anxiety in several great set pieces. Kudos, too, to the effects work by Robert Hall’s Almost Human studios. It’s alternately subtle and horrifying, with the infected looking genuinely sick, not just undead.
Romero purists may take affront, but like Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, the new Crazies is simply a different take on a good idea. That’s not so crazy, is it?