The Crazies

The Crazies (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

The sort of zombie flick “The Crazies,” a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, offers enough horrifying moments and the occasional solid jolts to deliver a good time. Fans of the viral outbreak sub-genre will know precisely what to expect: a small town becomes the epicenter of an unknown disease and a special group attempts to escape both the infected and soldiers whose mission is to exterminate civilians—regardless of the status of their health. But the picture is in good hands because director Breck Eisner understands the importance of building tension and suspense before delivering the inevitable violent and gory “Gotcha!” moments.

It offers a different take on the undead; instead of lumbering lunkheads attempting to take a big bite on their victims, the infected here takes a more unsettling route. Once housing the virus, a person slowly loses control of himself or herself. A typical symptom involves being easily agitated or angered. There are a few who become catatonic. Loved ones describe the infected as “not themselves.” It mirrors some signs of dementia’s early stages. The next level is violence. In the opening scene, we observe a man walking into a baseball field with a shotgun in hand, apparently intending to create a massacre. Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) and Deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) manage to stop the man just time.

Many of the scares are effective because the screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright proves knowledgeable of what terrifies most people: cramped spaces, being burned alive, an intruder in one’s home, the threat of being hurt or killed by someone who you thought cared about you. This makes the morgue, farmhouse, and car wash scenes stand out. By tapping on common and familiar fears, the writers give their material a fighting chance against what we expect to happen: clamoring for a weapon, begging for help or for the assailant to stop, last-minute saves. Couple this with a plot that constantly moves forward, what results is a watchable horror film.

The look of the zombies is not particularity inspired. I believe the director as well as editor Billy Fox are aware of this shortcoming. Notice how we are only provided quick glimpses of the infected—especially those in the more advanced stages of the sickness. I’ve seen better cosmetics and practical effects in B-movies from the ‘80s. I felt the filmmakers could have used this limitation to their advantage, like employing harsher lighting and shadows. Even more of a challenge: using interesting and awkward camera angles to hide—or highlight—what they have to work with. Since so many elements in the film are expected—although done relatively well—taking on more extreme approaches might given the work more personality.

I felt “The Crazies” wishes to respect and improve upon the original—so much so that it takes itself very seriously. (Notice how humor is present but quite restrained.) But this comes with a cost. It creates an impression that those in charge are uncertain when it comes to taking on big risks for sake of attaining big rewards. They tend to go with a safe bet—which is fine because the final product is entertaining enough. But one cannot help but feel as though it could have been a different beast entirely had the strategy for storytelling been as wild and intelligent as the type of zombies showcased therein.

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