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It is true folks, I willingly went to go see a horror movie remake. While I enjoy my fair share of the gore genre, mostly with works full of atmosphere, mood, and storylines with a mix of the surreal and the absurd, do I necessarily care about the subgenre dealing with political musings hidden beneath the zombification of America? No, no I don’t. So what drew me to The Crazies, a revamp of its namesake’s 70s release created by the king of political-horror George Romero himself? It definitely wasn’t director Breck Eisner—a guy many in the critical forum love to attribute being in Hollywood only because his daddy got him in—nor the infected masses looking to kill everyone in their wake plotline that has been worn out and beaten to the ground for the past twenty years. Truthfully, I don’t know what made me so intrigued. The trailer was interesting, the cast stacked with some good talent, and, in all honesty, the buzz was good. But, whatever the reason, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m glad some unknown power in the universe got my butt in that seat.

Not seeing the original is a bit of a luxury for me; I have nothing to compare and contrast what I saw, no film that was either too good to necessitate a remake or so bad that the question of why anyone would want to touch the material again is asked. Instead, I am able to take it on its own merits. It doesn’t take long to get off on a good foot either, deciding to forego any sort of exposition and lead us right to the baseball diamond, the first setting of a Crazy gunned down. In just five short minutes we are introduced to the doctor of the sleepy Iowa town, as well as the fun-loving constituents living under the watchful eye of likeable, yet tough, Sheriff David Dutten. In comes a man, apparently drunk, with a shotgun cocked and ready to fire amongst a mass of young children, and the town is forever changed. The Sheriff takes this man’s life—not some anonymous character, but a man they all know by name and family, a part of the community they have worked so hard to create. It is then a quick jaunt to the Dutten house where the doc and sheriff reside, expecting a little one of their own, and off to the marshes where a trio of hick hunters, well beyond season, find a parachuter that has rotted underwater. Something is going on, something has infected the drinking supply, and all of a sudden the military is in to quarantine and kill. Now the fun begins.

Eisner, coming into his own quite nicely, really pares down the action at the start to give us all the information we need for understanding how Ogden Marsh works and what its people are willing to do for each other. By seeing the stand-up attitude of Dutten and his deputy Russell, we totally believe that they’d go back into the warzone after clearing out to save David’s wife and find out what is really happening. The film soon turns into a cat and mouse chase with unknown forces presumably bearing down on them—our four main characters running for their lives towards a haven they don’t even know still exists. The Duttens and Russell are obvious choices to take measures into their own hands and young Becca, Dr. Judy’s assistant at her office, is one more reason to find safety. Now they must contend with the military, for all intents and purposes shooting first and asking questions later, as well as a growing population of Crazies, infected to the point where bloodlust is all that remains. It’s a condition that the before-mentioned trio of rednecks adopt very early on—ratcheting up hunting season from animals to mammals—causing the infected to become homicidal and yet still retain its memories for vengeance on who to kill.

You cannot go wrong with a leading couple the likes of Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell. These are two proven thespians that have the capability to make unforgiving roles shine despite their limitations. Surprisingly, they don’t have this problem here; the script and plot progression is actually quite taut and fast-paced. I not only became invested in their performances, but also the quest for freedom they are on, knowing that bumps will be coming along the path continuously. Both span the emotional spectrum in order to show the love they have for each other and the desire to survive long enough to see their child be born. Joe Anderson plays right-hand man Russell very nicely—a heroic kid whose heart never fails him, no matter what happens—and Becca is played effectively by Danielle Panabaker in a thankless role compared to her starring turn in last year’s horrorfest Friday the 13th. I often wondered what a guy like Ben Foster could have brought to Anderson’s part, but I think he already did that job in 30 Days of Night, not to mention that his excessive gravitas and darkness would have subverted the sympathy necessary to make his final scene as effective as it is.

And this is where The Crazies rises above its own genre limitations. At its core, the film is definitely a horror flick, but—and I’ll give a ton of credit to Eisner and his screenwriters—it also works in the context of a successful dramatic thriller. I was on edge the entire time, waiting to see what might happen next, hoping that these kind folks make it out of their nightmare alive. Unafraid to show the relationships between the four leads, the filmmakers allow for the story to unravel instead of just being a series of scare tactics that jump from one to another without any real connection linking them. Besides the obvious conventions like telling your wife to ‘stay there while I go look’ and wonder why she’s gone when you get back, almost everything that happens is logical and plausible in the context of the film. The addition of some memorably constructed sequences like an impressive car wash setpiece, surprisingly close hostage taking instance back at the Dutten house, and the stark revelation towards the end of what was really happening, help create a solid piece of work that is even shot creatively. Rather than just be about a lone hero busting skulls of the walking dead, this one decides to be about a family doing all they can to stay alive. At the end of the day, the government will stop at nothing to clean up a mess they made; it’s what you do for the ones you love in the midst of the chaos that ends up standing out from the rest.

The Crazies 7/10

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photography:
[1] (Left to right.) Brett Rickaby, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell star in Overture Films’ THE CRAZIES. Photo by Saeed Adyani © 2010 Overture Films, LLC and Participant Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Radha Mitchell stars in Overture Films’ THE CRAZIES. Photo by Saeed Adyani © 2010 Overture Films, LLC and Participant Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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