The Crazies, 2010.
Directed by Breck Eisner.
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker.
The residents of a small town are transformed into bloodthirsty killers when their water supply is accidentally infected with a virus.
Dr. Strangelove ended with Vera Lynn warbling ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The Crazies, almost 50 years later, opens with Johnny Cash singing the same song. Kubrick did something special with that record. He made it into an anthem for Doomsday’s pathos, juxtaposing the hopeful tune with images of all-destroying, mushrooming exploding clouds. It’s kind of comforting, in a nihilistic way. Geeky horror directors presumably get off when they can fudge the song into their own Apocalypse films. It crops up at the end of Severance, too.
The Crazies is a remake of a George A. Romero film from the 70s, which I haven’t seen and am just going to assume is better. It’s set in a small, isolated town. You know it’s small because our hero, Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant), can walk down the street and greet people by name. Also, the opening aerial shot of the town displays quite a low ‘Population Count’ in the screen’s bottom right. They missed a trick there – if they kept it onscreen throughout, we could have watched it fall with each character death.
One day a resident of the town, Rory, decides to stumble onto the school’s baseball pitch with a shotgun. The children back off and their parents gasp. David edges towards Rory and implores him to lay down his gun. Rory goes for the trigger, but David gets to his first. You see, Rory was drunk………on the chemical-weapon-poisoned local water supply! Dum. Dum. Duuuuum.
Well, he was also a recovering alcoholic. It allows everyone to talk about what a tragedy his addiction was, rather than thinking it has anything to do with the military plane crash in a nearby lake. Eventually David uncovers this, but by then it’s too late. The army is here and they’re already shipping the healthy away, quarantining those showing symptoms and killing the infected.
This is where the film’s action kicks off, mostly in variations of ‘escape’ and ‘rescue’. David, his wife Judy (wrongly diagnosed as infected because of her pregnancy), his deputy Russell (correctly diagnosed) and a sexy girl, Becca, are the characters left to fend for themselves in their ruined hometown. The film sometimes slips into video game aesthetics, and, to its credit, uses them to good effect. There’s a tense scene in the quarantined hospital where Judy is strapped to a bed. One of the infected has broken into her ward with a pitchfork. He goes up to each bed, with a patient on them similarly restrained, and stabs the farm tool down through their gut. It’s all seen from Judy’s perspective in POV, just like a video game cut sequence where you can look around with the analogue stick but are fixed in one position, helpless with terror.
The Crazies main selling points are, well, the Crazies. They’re different from both the running and shuffling varieties of zombies. Instead of your usual undead fodder, it’s as though something has snapped in the infected, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. They’re insane rather than mindless. A cold calculation lies behind each act of violence they commit.
The violent ones are almost entirely men in their 30s or 40s. In an uninfected world they’d probably be prone to mid-life crisis anyway. Unfortunately, it seems as though this trend has occurred either by accident or unconsciously on the filmmaker’s part. Practically, for a horror movie, it makes sense because that demographic is the most believably threatening (bloodthirsty old ladies or toddlers don’t strike fear as well). If more was made of this, The Crazies could have become quite a blackly humorous social commentary and would have suited the rest of the film’s tone perfectly.
The film starts off well, but steadily becomes tedious. The dialogue isn’t good enough to reflect on the more serious aspects of desperation of which they converse. And what’s with all the “wait here’s” to the women? Seriously, after all the times you’ve been jumped alone by some mental case with a leaf blower so far, you’d have thought you might be investigating dark, abandoned buildings together by now. And like she’s any safer in that eerily deserted car park?
Obviously, these are staples of the horror film. In good ones, you enjoy them too much to notice. In really, really bad ones, you take delight in their lame predictability. Unfortunately, The Crazies falls short of being either.
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