Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Crazies (2009)

The CraziesTHE CRAZIES is not a great film, nor will it likely even enter the "Hall Of Fame" of zombie-type movies. However, it is a tight, well-constructed and reasonably well-acted thriller that is more than worthy of a look.

In the small mid-western town of Ogden's Marsh, high school baseball season is just getting started. Everyone in town is there to size up the quality of this year's team...and frankly, life just couldn't get any finer. In less than 2 minutes, we get learn all we need to know about this little town...we see that it's a town where everyone knows everyone. Everyone has a place and is contented. Life is simple but satisfying. But when a glassy-eyed farmer with a shotgun wanders onto the field of play (actually, he has what might be described as a zombie-like stare), the sheriff (played at a perfect pitch by Timothy Olyphant) tried to talk him out of his weapon. Their brief, tense confrontation ends in the death of the farmer...and the town is rattled. Things quickly escalate as more and more citizens begin acting weird, violent and yes, CRAZY.

It isn't quite a zombie dead person is coming back to life. In fact, it's more a cousin to 28 DAYS LATER, where the zombies were really just people infected with rage. But whatever the case, we essentially see the very quick collapse of this little society...especially when the government quarantines them and begins to separate the sick from the well.

The movie takes a fairly predictable path from here...there's not really much we haven't seen before (although the film does feature the scariest journey through an automatic carwash that we've ever seen). But there is seldom much in the way of the truly new in this's all in the execution. If the film is constructed well enough, we don't pay quite so much attention to some of the plot holes (or if not holes, at least areas the stretch credibility, even if we accept the initial premise). THE CRAZIES is well-constructed, and uses its modest budget well. It doesn't attempt anything it can't pull off well, so there aren't lots of cheesy effects. It assembles a small core of characters, and makes us care about them just enough to draw our sympathy at their plight.

The central relationship is between sheriff Olyphant and his wife, the town doctor, played by Radha Mitchell. They are a couple that has clearly been together for awhile, and there are no big histrionics between them. They feel like a couple that has a natural ease between each other, and even when pushed to extremes, there's never any doubt that they're comfortable. This reflects the overall ease of the doesn't push too hard. Olyphant and Mitchell feel more like a married couple that is comfortably at ease with each other...not the typical movie couple who always have to find a way to tear each other's clothes off and fool around, even as the world collapses around them. I liked that...and it made me really root for them.

In many ways, the most interesting relationship is between Olyphant and his deputy, played by Joe Anderson (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE). Their interplay, the casual deference of the deputy for his boss, their unshakeable sense of duty all feel natural. These are good guys...but in quiet, unassuming ways. They just do what they feel is right, even if they're really scared. The movie is not showy about's not like their Mel Gibson & Danny Glover in LETHAL WEAPON...they're just a couple of small town law enforcement officers who wear their badges not only with pride but with an instinctive understanding that they have RESPONSIBILITY as well.

The movie has scares aplenty, and lots of tense scenes. There's a great scene in the latter half when the couple is confronted by a couple of crazies in their own bedroom...we've got four people basically clawing and scratching at each other in a tiny room, and it's maddening to watch.

It's nice to see a good, honest little film that knows its business, but takes the time to get enough little details right to make it just a bit more than ordinary. If you're in the mood for a few jump-in-your-seat moments, you could do far, far worse than THE CRAZIES.

I knew nothing about The Crazies going into the theater. I didn't know it was originally produced by the father of the zombie genre, George Romero. And I didn't expect to see a movie about a sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) and his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) with my own wife six months pregnant. Please note: this review contains spoilers.

The movie starts out slowly. In these stressful times, we're all too familiar with scenes of sudden gun violence in an idyllic setting. After sheriff Dutton is forced to gun down a former town drunk on a little league field, the town of Ogden Marsh begins to unravel. Everybody knows everybody else in this small town and a murder leaves emotional aftershocks that traumatize its citizens. This includes Dutton's wife, who happens to be the town doctor.

The tension slowly notches up from there. These early moments are critical in establishing The Crazies as a superior horror film. The petty rivalries, the secret and not-so-secret grudges, the sadistic bullies all of the townsfolk's deepest impulses are let loose through the TRIXIE virus, a military bioweapon that has accidentally (?) contaminated the town.

Unlike so many other horror movies, Dutton and his deputy Clank (Joe Anderson) are precisely the people who should be dealing with an outbreak. The problem is that they are little fish in a very big pond. The movie quickly morphs from a slasher flick to survival horror when the military gets called in, loses control, and pulls out.

What makes The Crazies so refreshing is that it plays on horror tropes, using it to narrative advantage. We find out that the soldiers who are executing townsfolk aren't faceless, that the TRIXIE virus may or may not be transmitted through the water supply, and that taking one's temperature isn't a guaranteed means of identifying who's infected. The Crazies makes no promises but always delivers.

This ambiguity may frustrate some people who expect everything to be wrapped in a neat bow, but director Breck Eisner knows that there is horror in uncertainty. It's precisely this lack of clarity that makes the movie so good the villains aren't unilaterally evil, the victims aren't always helpless, and the solutions aren't always moral. The Crazies wallows in the gray area of harsh decisions, treating an outbreak with all the ethical gravity of a war.

Let there be no doubt, this is as much a war movie as it is a horror movie. The real crazies, Eisner seems to say, is anyone who would trust authority. These days, that may not be such bad advice.

P.S. Stay through the credits!

Buy The Crazies (2009) Now

Gina from Haunted Flower reviews "The Crazies" directed by Breck Eisner and produced by George A. Romero based on his 1973 version. It stars Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson. A contagious mental illness takes over the inhabitants of a small town in Iowa.

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Make no mistake-"The Crazies" is a horror film. You may have read that it's really a modern remake of an old 1973 George Romero horror film by the same name. I haven't seen Romero's original, but this film is very well-done.

The biggest name in this film is Timothy Olyphant in the lead role as sheriff of small town Ogden Marsh, Iowa (population 1260). The rest of the cast and the director, Breck Eisner, are not quite as well-known, but they all do a very competent job. The acting and the directing are so well-coordinated that you never have the feeling the film is trying to "showcase" a particular actor, nor that the actors are ever competing with each other for attention. That, along with the pace of this film, which to me seemed just perfect (transitioning very gradually from casual to almost frenetic as things fall more & more apart) really allows the viewer to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself in the story. And there is plenty of story. There's plenty of scares too, but this film never loses sight of telling a story, focusing on a small group of people trying desperately to escape this town alive. They have not only the "crazies" to contend with but also the military (in classic Romero style, the government is no more trustworthy than the disease). The violence is just sufficient to maintain a real sense of suspense, without over-the-top or gratuitous gore.

The film is almost entirely first-person viewpoint, and along with the characters we learn that something is terribly wrong, people are going berserk and senselessly attacking others; that it apparently came from the cargo on a military plane that crashed in the marsh which supplies the town water; that it might have become airborn; that the military is rounding up and quarantining everyone; and finally, that nobody is going to be allowed to get out...

There are also plenty of head-fakes in which you don't know whether something awful is about to happen or not, but these too are done in a reasonably sophisticated way, not overly calling attention to themselves but just keeping you constantly on-edge and not knowing just what's coming next.

The blu-ray looks great and the musical score is good, particularly at the ending credits. There are a moderate number of "bonus features"; three short (10 minute) featurettes being the most interesting to me. This was really filmed in Iowa, as well as in rural Georgia (enabling filming to avoid the cold Iowa winters and the hot Georgia summers). The whole story takes place over just a couple of days. I'm doubting there will be a sequel although the final sequence left open the possibility. This is a very nicely-done horror film with good characterization and a somewhat understated style. It should appeal not just to horror film devotees but to a somewhat wider audience.

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I have never seen the original "Crazies" film so I can not comment on which version is better. The Crazies(remake)takes an overplayed zombie genre idea and tries to make it more realistic. The story is told simply with a plausible background story. Instead of hordes of zombies running around like supercharged baboons or sloth-like undead roaming aimlessly, these "zombies" are alive and act fairly human(at least from a distance), but have a pretty mean disposition. Depending on how far gone they are, they can almost seem normal...I said almost. What makes it seem much more real is that they still seem to have a little memory of the former selves and react to people they know. The special effects and gore are played down a notch, but it doesn't make the film any less frightening. This is largely because the "zombies" are the least of your worries! I'm a fan of some of the classic zombie films and there have been a number of good ones in recent years, but The Crazies is one of the few that made me think could this happen? ...and that's pretty scary in itself!

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