Saturday, February 27, 2010

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop To Drink

The Crazies is a perfectly passable horror movie.
But it’s not nearly as frightening as The Blind Side.
Sigh. I’ll get to what I’m declaring The Most Racist Movie To Ever Probably Win An Oscar in another day or so (it’s horrific, hence I’m reviewing it) but for now, here’s Breck Eisner’s decent, if uninspired spin on George Romero’s imperfect (yet perfectly loved by me) 1973 non-zombie zombie-esque film.
Quick Plot: In an idyllic Iowan town where the sun beams and stars twinkle, a high school baseball game is interrupted by the reformed Town Drunk stumbling into right field with a shotgun. Town Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, forever holder of a free movie pass following his way-better-than-it-had-to-be performance in A Perfect Getaway) saves the day by blowing his face off. This seems to upset School Principal, but David’s understanding (and expectant) wife/Town Doctor Judy (Silent Hill’s Radha Mitchell) and loyal Deputy Russell (The Ruins’ brokeback Joe Anderson) are there for support. Town Historian, Local Undertaker, and Mayor don’t comment, although Local Farming Family soon follows the opening disaster with another tragic fate.
Two things you’ve probably noticed from my review:
  1. In terms of the cast, there’s a fair amount of modern horror cred (The Signal’s Justin Welborn and Friday the 13th: Part XII’s Danielle Panabraker round it out)
  2. Just about every character is quite easily defined by Sesame Street's Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood style professions.
If you’ve seen George Romero’s flawed, but weirdly effective original, you know the basic hook. A biological weapon has been accidentally released on the sweet hamlet of Ogdan Nash--I mean, Ogden Marsh--and its major downside is that it drives the general population violently--and occasionally, giddily--bonkers. The government quickly swoops in to stabilize the situation, but anyone that’s ever seen a movie knows that a civil employee in a HAZMAT suit brings less good vibes than a Red Sox fan at Yankee Stadium.
Chaos quickly ensues as the townspeople are rounded up by menacing soldiers. Where the original soared in these messy moments of government order failing to hold up in rec centers and school gyms, 30+ years later, these scenes are standard to almost any contamination zombie flick. Eisner offers nothing new in that department, although a moment of suspense involving a pitchfork and a gurney is a decent thrill. 

Where The Crazies works best is, surprisingly, in a few more pointed and quiet moments of actual human emotion. Even hardened city folk such as yours truly can’t help but be charmed by some of Ogden Marsh’s sunshine, making the eerily empty streets lined with mom ‘n pop shops slightly poignant. At one point, Judy and David approach the perfect home where they were going to build a family, now having seen their neighbors tear each other to pieces in the school their child would have eventually attended. That in itself is horrific, as is the slow realization that one of the more likable characters is infected.

It’s strange that I would find those smaller beats so much more interesting than, say, night shots of Crazies climbing over government guarded fences. Perhaps it’s a testament to the solid cast and surprisingly strong script in contrast to the uninspired direction of Eisner, but the actual attacks are simply kind of trite. A car wash ambush is filled with tension, but like the characters, we can’t really see a thing going on and therefore have very little sense of what the danger actually is. 
I realize this review is taking a very negative turn, which is unfortunate because I liked this movie. It’s fine. Well-acted. Pretty landscape. Some neat violence. Appropriately downbeat when it needs to be. Adequate in every way, and even fairly respectful in nodding to the original while being a thing of its own. I just wish “its own” meant that, and not like every other slick remake made in the past ten years. I dare you to not think about some of the more visceral thrills of Alexander Aja’s Hills Have Eyes during much of The Crazies’ action sequences. I double dare you to be nearly as impressed.

High Points
A quietly eerie cameo from Lynn Lowry provides a knowing, but not annoying wink to fans of the original
Part of the messiness of Romero’s original comes from the lack of focus in storyline, as it volleys between the civilian heroes and the government trying in vain to solve the problem. One of the remake’s best decisions is to view all the action from David and Judy’s point of view. All we know about the Trixie virus is filtered through the bits of intel from randomly stopped soldiers, keeping the audience as in the dark as our desperate characters
Low Points
While Eisner proves his competence behind the camera, all of the close combat action sequences are either terribly staged or dreadfully edited. The first major fight between David and a buzz-saw wielding Crazy is intense, but there’s no sense of where the two men fighting hand-to-hand are in relation to each other, something not helped by speed-of-light cuts. Similarly, a moment where Judy hides in a closet with corpses lacks any suspense since we have no idea how the closet is laid out. When a very tall and assumedly strong Crazy opens the door to look for life, we see a shot of him, rather than his point of view. It’s a ridiculous moment when even we don’t know where he should be looking.
One shoot-the-guy-just-before-he-kills-a-protagonist scene is a relief. Three is pushing it.

Lessons Learned
Iowa weather is a mystery. You can wear a winter coat on a sunny afternoon only to take a dip in a swimming pool ten minutes later
Town Sheriff never pays for coffee
“Wait here” are two of the stupidest words you can say to a loved one when martial law is in effect and psychotic super strong humanoids are on the hunt
It takes a really long time to strangle a man to death (although, as A Perfect Getaway proved, Lord Olyphant is really hard to kill)

See/Skip/Sneak In
As theatrical horror remakes in 2010 go, The Crazies is perfectly adequate, much along the same lines as another remake of an imperfect, but important 1970s film Last House On the Left. Those sensitive to jump scares may have a great time, while others who prefer the strange madness of the original (like the uber creepy scene where Day of the Dead’s Dr. Frankenstein puts the moves on his own daughter) will find the film lacking in anything memorable. To endorse R-rated horror, give it your matinee money. Otherwise, slip in after something better or wait for the sure to be “unrated” DVD (meaning, as is standard for the ‘00s editions, filled with four extra minutes of exposition and eleven seconds of additional CGI blood). 


  1. As a lifetime resident, I can tell you the Iowa weather thing is completely true. We have no consistent temperature and thus all have no reason when it comes to clothing. It's 25 degrees today and I didn't wear a jacket to the movie, but I'll wear my coat into summer sometimes.

    Good review, BTW,

  2. I totally didn't know that! That's kind of neat, but I would imagine, quite inconvenient. Good to know the filmmakers paid such close attention to detail.


  3. This is an incredibly insightful review! I felt like things were just taken at a very superficial level, even though the movie was fun. If they hadn't tried to portray it as being this serious piece of horror rather than the simple action movie it actually is, I wouldn't have complained as much. Damn marketing people!

    The Sheriff never has to pay for coffee in small towns, haha.

  4. Haven't seen it yet, but allow me to agree with you yet again about The Perfect Getaway. The flappy bit of skin over Timmy's steel plate was worth the price of admission alone.

  5. Thanks Chris! I was definitely hooked by that fantastic trailer, even though I knew deep down that it simply couldn't really be as exciting as I'd hoped.

    Miles: A/The Perfect Getaway really has grown on me the more I think about what a pleasant surprise of a film it was. Once I find the Blu Ray at a discount, it's joining my collection, and about 97% of the reason is simply that Olyphant gave one of the most entertaining performances I'd seen all year.

  6. I've heard mostly good things about this one, but if there is one thing that I hate, it's poorly shot and edited action sequences. So thanks for the warning, I'd rather not learn about that in the theater. Also, thinking that Sandy is the Antichrist and everything that is wrong with cinema, I cannot wait to read what you have to say about The Blindside. Like, I might not leave my computer till it's up. I'll just keep refreshing, over and over again until I see Sandy! your page views are gonna be epic.

  7. Em-You have an amazing ability to pinpoint things that I as a viewer and your ignorant brother think about and quickly forget or forgive (mostly to justify the 12.50 admission price) in the theater. I didn't realize just how talented and smart you were till reading this review, remembering you took no written notes in the theater and seeing how dead on it is. I am proud to be your brother. Even if you make the christmas card look like King Kong! That's an inside joke for anyone who has seen the blind side or will....and please please please, do yourself a favor and do so...

    your brother, tim

    p.s. the sheriff will have a tab for his coffee remember!

  8. Goodness Matt, I don't even know where to start with The Blind Side but I'll be sure to get it up sometime this week. Keep refreshing!

    Tim-Thanks for the kind words. You're the bestest Intravia not named Emily and you've made me blush.

  9. I can't agree this was a good movie. I was bored for pretty much the entire running time. The film was well-acted in the sense that the characters looked surprised when they were supposed to be surprised, angry when they were supposed to be angry, and crazy when they were supposed to be crazy. I never really felt there was any tangible emotional connection between anyone in the film.

  10. I give a little more credit, at least to Olyphant and Mitchell for drawing me in well enough. I believed them as a couple, but there was nothing extraordinary about their performances. I can see how, if they didn't work for you, the movie would be a total bust. Eisner doesn't really have much to offer as a director thus far, and if you can't grip onto the characters, there's really nothing else to hold onto.