Monday, October 4, 2010

The Crazies

There are a lot of people who bristle at the idea of remaking a “classic” film (I’m not sure how classic a movie can be if few people have seen it, no matter how good it is. But I digress.). George Romero is justly idolized by horror fans. These two things gave the 2010 remake of The Crazies a steep road to climb to be accepted, and some people never will. That’s a shame, because The Crazies is a good movie, and I’ll risk being burned at the stake for being a heretic by saying it is better than the original.

To call the Iowa town of Ogden Marsh (population 1260, but about to change) pastoral is an understatement. It’s Mayberry in the Midwest, benignly looked over by Sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant, who seems to have perfected the lawman persona from Deadwood and Justified) and his doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell, from Pitch Black and Silent Hill). Eden has a serpent, though, and the town is swept with a wave of violence. The town (reformed) drunk interrupts a high school baseball game with a shotgun and is shot by the sheriff. A famer locks his wife and child in a closet then burns the house down. The sheriff is already understanding something is wrong when a military plane is found crashed in the local marsh. Something has gotten out and into the town water supply, and the residents are becoming infected with something causing violent madness.

It sounds like the setup for just another zombie film, but the infected townspeople are only a secondary threat. The real problem shows itself when the military arrives to “contain” the situation, and their idea of containment isn’t anything to make the residents of Ogden Marsh happy. The sheriff, his deputy, his pregnant wife, and her young assistant are soon on the run both from the military and their now-crazed neighbors.

Director Breck Eisner, best known for the 2005 Matthew McConaughey vehicle Sahara, does a good job of developing first a sense of the bucolic nature of the afflicted town, and the growing sense of fear as the residents realize, as the Sheriff puts it, “We’re in trouble.” He makes judicious use of jump scares, enough to keep you on the edge of your seat without making a cliché of them. There is also a decent job of raising the philosophical question: If the four refugees aren’t sure they are not infected, do they have the right to risk infecting the rest of the world in their attempt to survive?

The cast does a good job. I’ve gotten so used to seeing Olyphant as a gun-slinging lawman; I’m probably going to be surprised to see a movie where they cast someone else in such a role. Not a complaint; Olyphant gets those parts because he does them so well. If I have to pick out something to criticize, I’d say Mitchell’s character falls into the Helpless Female in Peril role a couple of times. This is an irritating movie convention where someone, usually a woman or girl, keeps wandering off and getting into trouble despite being warned of danger, propelling the plot in a new direction because she needs to be rescued. Mitchell has a couple of episodes where she doesn’t stay where she’s supposed to, and she has an amazing talent for walking into a room and not noticing there is an infected psychopath inside (she does it twice, once walking blindly into a room the size of a large closet, and not looking around to notice there is not one but two crazies standing inside.). The story also plays fast and loose with both the scientific aspects of disease (the sheriff does something that should have almost certainly infected him, but seems to be all right after) and physics (a problematic explosion) among others, but hey, it’s a movie. If you want science, watch the Discovery Channel.

Minor gripes aside, I really enjoyed this one. There is real character development, so rare in horror in any medium these days, and you actually feel involved as the characters try to make their escape. If you are one of those indignant that a soulless corporation could remake a beloved film, relax. As a friend of mine pointed out, this is a remake in name only. Recommended.

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