Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson
Directed by Breck Eisner
Imagine this. You live in a quiet little town where everyone knows you, and by default you know everyone’s business. The people are generally friendly and pleasant. The streets are clean and safe. Most folks don’t even lock their doors at night. On Sunday afternoon the kids play baseball next to the high school, and everyone comes out to watch since there’s not much else to do. You step away for a moment and look back at the assembled crowd. You see those familiar smiling faces cheering for their sons and daughters, but one face stands out.
That man who runs the hardware store on the edge of Main Street looks troubled. He stares off at some unseen object, regarding it with equal parts confusion, annoyance, and fear. As you approach to make sure everything is okay, you call his name. He doesn’t respond. When he finally does snap to attention, you are not greeted warmly as you would expect from a man you’ve known all your life. Instead, he cocks his head slightly and in one fluid, deliberate movement raises the gun he’s been hiding in his jacket. All at once, this Norman Rockwell painting comes crashing down around you. If this gentle man could snap with no warning, then anyone could. Reason gives way to chaos as an unseen force takes hold of sanity. It’s amazing how the world can go to hell in just one day.
David Dutton (Olyphant) is the sheriff of such a town, where the most exciting thing he’s got to handle is a drunk and disorderly from time to time. Without warning, his happy townsfolk begin to snap, and as the body count rises, Dutton and his deputy race to put the pieces together. Usually a film like this can go one of two ways. The first involves the carnage escalating as we discover that demons are possessing people, causing them to lash out at the person next to them. This would be your balls-out horror movie scenario with blood and body parts flying everywhere and our heroes fighting to stay alive. The second path is more the “Outbreak” storyline where Dutton and his wife (conveniently a doctor) fight to keep their town alive while the government would rather just nuke the whole state from space. The Crazies splits the difference.
Director Breck Eisner proves he knows how to set a mood as he unrolls scene after scene of tension so thick that any jump scare to follow will send your theater crowd into a panic. This creeping dread sticks with you as Dutton, his wife Judy (Mitchell), Deputy Clank (Anderson), and pretty young Becca Darling (Panabaker) struggle for survival with military forces storming the streets and the homicidal infected lurking in every shadow. With only the slightest pause here and there to drop a clue as to why this is happening, you are made to feel like an embedded reporter in a war zone. At any moment the person next to you could be violently murdered, and there isn’t much you can do about it but stifle your own screams and run.
Amazingly, The Crazies abandons the conventions of any typical formula very early on. The “sleepy little town going to hell while the Sheriff tries to save them” plot is ripped apart with the introduction of military forces who take most of the choices away from our heroes. Those wide open Iowa expanses fail to squash your apprehension as you come to accept there is nowhere to run. A key element in keeping you locked in is the development and likebility of those few main characters. With only four people who never leave each other to follow, you are given a significant amount of time to become emotionally invested. When any of your crew is in danger, your grip on the theater arm rests will become vice-like. You’ll believe anyone can die at any moment, and THAT is how you keep an audience standing at attention for one hundred minutes!
Superb acting and excellent writing work together to create realistic circumstances throughout the film. I can only recall two moments when I wondered what the hell the characters were thinking when abandoning each other amid the madness. This “logic over violence for the sake of violence” stance is a refreshing change of pace and makes the horror of The Crazies incredibly effective. At first the infected townsfolk look like anyone else, revealing their altered state through violent acts. As we run alongside our crew, we watch the virus progress until the final moments when we stand before true monsters. It’s almost like a beautiful synergy. A dark, foreboding tone washing over the story like an inescapable tsunami. The once tranquil streets darkened with smoke, littered with bodies, and overrun with men who have lost all reason and morality. The escalation takes its time, wrapped around a story of unflinching terror that never slows down for more than a minute…not enough time to catch your breath.
Hardcore cinephiles will find that the director of cinematography mirrors the film’s descent into hell in an odd way. The start of the movie shows the sunny town in slightly washed out colors. A dusty, unremarkable town on a sunny day like any other. As the story takes a hard left turn, the contrast is bumped up six notches with shadows darkening and deepening like pools of black concealing the human monsters within. The tweaks in perspective punch up the terror, enhancing your dread of what you haven’t seen yet and casting an eerie glow on the menace right in front of you. The Crazies knows what scares you, and once it pins you to your seat, it won’t let go until the film’s stark finale. This is what horror is all about!
Movie fans will call The Crazies a remarkably tense, unrelenting thriller. You’ve got human drama, chases, explosions, love, death, and a bit of a mystery laced through it all. Horror fans will applaud a filmmaker for acknowledging what makes for true terror, applying proven methods to make an audience leap from their seats and groan in agony at the thought of the next fright. Of course, a healthy dose of blood and gore doesn’t hurt! Fantastically acted, superbly executed, and presented for those of us who thought a remake would have nothing new to offer, The Crazies is a perfect Saturday night!
4 out of 5
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