FEBRUARY 25, 2010
Pretty much everyone I know that went to a screening of The Crazies on Wednesday night raved about it, but I had to take it with a grain of salt - the movie was part of a theme-park quality “event”, with buses shuttling the viewers to secure locations, armed guards, a guy on fire, etc. In other words, when you’re being treated to that much spectacle (and some booze, I’m sure), how can you NOT like the movie? So I was relieved to discover that I thought the movie WAS indeed pretty great, and I saw it at a generic screening at a theater I hate attending (as my sense of direction is constantly thwarted by the place - AMC Century City if you’re an LA resident).
Now, full disclosure - I have yet to see the original. My attempt to rent it prior to tonight was thwarted by the dreaded “Long Wait” on Blockbuster and Netflix (though, irony abounds - I got home and saw that Netflix was going to send the original out for Saturday). From what I understand, like Dawn of the Dead 04, it’s the same concept but played out differently. Whereas Romero’s film is heavy with the social commentary (and I guess some Dr. Strangelove-esque “war room” sequences), this one is more of a non-stop action/thrills/chase movie, with the socio-context kept to a minimum, and the government coverup stuff basically boils down to a single sentence (“We fucked up, sorry.”). As Zack Snyder and James Gunn seemed to understand with Dawn, simply modernizing the subtext would be rather pointless - it’s better to just take the concept and play to the strengths of the current filmmakers.
I’ve never seen Breck Eisner’s Sahara, but his Fear Itself episode didn’t exactly leave me clamoring for a full length Eisner horror film. However, he proves to be a very capable director, keeping the pace up while never losing sight of the characters. And in addition to the frequent (and often successful) jump scares, he’s great at misdirection. There’s a sequence early on when a woman believes her husband (who we know is infected) is sitting in his farm thresher truck in their barn, and, trying to get his attention, walks right up to the thing. But then we hear a scream from the house, so she runs back, and we think she will find her kid dead. Wrong again! The kid is hiding in the closet. And then there is yet another twist to the familiar scene of a crazed father trying to find his family. Stuff like that always wins me over - I’ve seen a zillion of these things, and if you can fool me, then you’re doing your job.
Tim Olyphant is also key to the film’s success. He’s an actor I really like, but only in the right roles (or maybe it’s “in a good script”). He was unbearable in Die Hard Faux, and the less said about Hitman, the better, but he’s in Seth Bullock somewhat-unwilling hero mode here, which suits him perfectly. Not only does he have a number of great lines (the “penicillin” one is classic, even if it makes him look like a real dick of a husband), but he’s far more intelligent and level-headed than most heroes in these sort of things are. I can’t think of a single moment in the entire film where he did something stupid, or even strained credibility. Not an easy task in a modern horror film. He also has cinema’s all time best “knife through the hand” scene, so bonus.
I was also impressed with Joe Anderson’s turn as Olyphant’s deputy. He’s more or less comic relief, but he’s also got the film’s best arc. I thought he was a first act character, but he sticks around throughout, providing the sort of buddy cop chemistry that was missing from something like 30 Days of Night, where Hartnett had that partner who more or less disappeared after 20 minutes. Danielle Panabaker also offers some nice moments, though her character seems a bit short-changed (after her introduction, she disappears for about a half hour).
One thing I definitely dug was that it had set-pieces (their old house, a car wash, a truck stop) but the stuff in between never felt slow. Everything felt organic, so that even though it had “big scenes” that you might want to cue up on their own on the Blu-ray, it never felt like the screenwriters wrote those scenes first and then tried to think of something to connect them. My only issue with the pace was that it seemed like they should have been able to reach the town border in little time - this is supposed to be a small town, right? And they even have vehicles on occasion, which makes it even harder to believe. Luckily, it’s one of those “I didn’t think about it until later” problems that the fast pace and characters you care about keeps you from noticing.
Now, you’ll notice I put the film in the zombie genre. I know they are not zombies in the traditional sense, but it’s still very much like a zombie movie, which is how I choose my tags in the first place - it’s the type of movie that a fan of that sub-genre will identify with and enjoy. People get infected (though, it should be noted, that they don’t “turn” after being bitten or whatever), someone that was once one of “us” becomes one of “them”, they lurk around and attack in swarms... a few changed lines of dialogue and it’s a traditional zombie movie. So shaddup!
Again, I haven’t seen the original, so maybe it’s a lot better and this one will insult fans of Romero’s version (though that didn’t seem to be the case; my friend is a big fan of the original and he quite enjoyed this one too). All I know for sure is, it’s a solid action/horror film with strong characters played by good actors. Remake or not, that’s all I ask for in any horror film, so grats to Eisner, writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, and Overture films for delivering one.
What say you?