Yeah, yeah, I can hear some of you gnashing your teeth, but here are the facts: The Crazies is a remake of a campy George Romero B-product of the 70's, The Wolfman is a remake of a respected horror classic from the 40's, and Shutter Island is an adaptation of an acclaimed book from this past decade. Now, which movie do you think people had the highest expectations for?
The truth of the matter is that The Crazies is a remake that is much better than the original deserved, much like 2004's update of another Romero classic, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. I'll freely admit that, due to my innate hatred of sequels and remakes, I was not expecting much from The Crazies, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I got.
Sure, it's not the best movie ever made by a long shot, and I mean long, but it sure was a lot of fun, and that's more than I can say for both The Wolfman and Shutter Island. But what those films lacked, The Crazies delivers in spades: entertainment. It's clear that Breck Eisner didn't set out to reinvent the wheel with his remake, all he wanted to do was to update a classic genre picture in the most effective and thrilling way possible. In that regard, he succeeded.
The first thing you'll notice about The Crazies, from the minute the first frame rolls through the projector, is that the tone is clearly defined. The film opens with several flame-drenched establishing shots of downtown Odgen Marsh, the town we'll come to know very well in the next 90 minutes. The scene is one of utter destruction and pandemic. There is no music, only the sound of fires raging. There are no people, only the trashed streets set ablaze. And just when you've seen enough to get the bigger picture, the screen goes black.
Two Days Earlier. Cue Johnny Cash's version of "We'll Meet Again", a clever and darkly humorous nod to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Bright farm fields drenched in sun. Farmers till their crops. Kids play baseball. This is a very different picture of Ogden Marsh- an image you know will be shattered soon.
It's in this earlier incarnation of Ogden Marsh where we meet Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), a local doctor. There's a few quick minutes of standard horror movie set-up to make these characters likable, but it doesn't really work. It feels like Eisner is just going through the motions here to show that these characters are people, and it feels like a flimsy representation of reality instead of good characterization. However, it works well enough to get us on board with these people and realize that they're our main characters.
And then the action starts. Eisner doesn't waste much time bringing the first Crazy out- in the form of the town drunk disrupting a baseball game with a shotgun. Heroic Sheriff Dutton has to put the old man out of his misery when he threatens to unload some buckshot, which starts the whole investigation process and invariably leads the local police, represented by only Dutton and his deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), to uncover a downed plane full of a powerful toxin that has contaminated the town's drinking water.
Before we know it, the town is quarantined. Cell phone reception and internet access is blocked. Mysterious black SUVs lurk around Main Street as more and more people become infected and the town begins to collapse. Almost as quickly as this whole situation began, the military is there corralling people like cattle, separating the sick from the healthy and shipping the uninfected to a truck stop about 20 miles outside of town. Naturally, Judy is quarantined because she's pregnant and running a fever, and David, who was one of the healthy ones, has to enlist the help of his deputy to sneak back into town and break her out.
From that point, it's a pretty straightforward survival ride, as our heroes must avoid both the Crazies and the intervening military men, who prove to be just as lethal and scary as the biological menace they've unwittingly unleashed on the small town.
I don't want to give anything more away, so I'll say no more about plot. But I must warn that the film does pose some questions that aren't easily answered, and some would be quick to call them plot holes. I'm not entirely convinced this is the case, as they're only plot holes if you believe that the characters in the movie are telling the whole truth. The idea that the Army would storm the area to contain the deadly outbreak is one that is plausible and frightening, but where it goes from there doesn't quite follow conventional logic- unless there's some clear misinformation being delivered.
Eisner handles this possibility quite well, with a young soldier being surprised as our heroes are cornered. They manage to tear off the young man's gas mask, which he freaks out about, saying, "They told us to keep the masks on at all times." Judy Dutton immediately assumes that this means the virus has gone airborne, however, there is no evidence to that fact, and Eisner makes that clear later in ways I won't discuss.
So what we have here is classic magic trick movie making, where you look one way, and it comes at you from another. It's quite fun if you check your logic detector at the door and let your brain relax. There's a plethora of cheap scares, and a solid amount of effective creepy moments, some ultimately fantastic sight gags and massive displays of pyrotechnics. It's everything a good horror movie should be- a ride. It's not torture porn like the horribly played-out Saw franchise, nor is it a turgid, uninspired rehash of an old landmark like The Wolfman.
No, what we get with The Crazies is a refreshed look at an old cult classic, a modern polishing of an dusty story that deserved a better movie. It's far from perfect, but it's pretty damn fun.