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Non-Review Review: The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies is a fairly decent little horror movie, as far as modern horror goes. It’s relatively restrained, smartly acted and generally well-directed, with the kind of horror which reflects back on modern society. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not excellent, but it’s another above-par remake of a George A. Romero cult classic.

Timothy Olyphant lights up the screen...

The pitch, for those unfamiliar with the film or the original, sees the residents of a small-town sudden and inexplicably going nuts – there’s no rhyme or reason to what appear to be random instances of violence. The imagery is powerful – the first sign of trouble being the arrival of the town’s recovering alcoholic on a school baseball pitch, carrying a shotgun. It’s a primal fear played out on screen – what if we don’t really know the people we think we know? How does a community react to random acts of violence?

Okay, maybe I’m overselling it – the movie settles down into fairly conventional horror fare within the first twenty minutes – but there is some wonderfully evocative material in those early moments as the town sheriff (played by the underrated Timothy Olyphant) tries to figure out what is happening (or even what happened). What happens when your friends and neighbours turn out to capable of horrifying and brutal acts of violence?

The movie is an adaptation of an original film by George A. Romero. Romero effectively created the zombie horror genre with The Night of the Living Dead, and his original version of The Crazies played to many of the same sorts of primal fears in the American heartland. It was released a year after President Richard Nixon had discontinued research into biological weapons, research that most people didn’t even know was going on until he announced he was scrapping it. It spoke to many of the fears that had begun to emerge about the widespread use of pesticides in American farming, and the possibly harmful effects that they could have upon human beings.

I'm on the fence about it, to be honest...

The remake wisely updates some of its points of reference. The insanity among the town members brings up the spectre of the fear of terrorism – the sort of paranoia that anyone could be a terrorist. The film actually spends quite a bit of time fixating on the government response to the outbreak – and it’s hard not see the images of the aftermath of Katrina in the way that the scenes are handled, with a local sports pitch converted into a poorly-managed refugee centre. At its most terrifying, the movie is the story of a government completely incapable of containing and managing a potentially devastating catastrophe.

However, the movie suffers perhaps because it doesn’t completely update the source material. Some of themes seem woefully out-of-date. The fear of annihilation by government use of nuclear weapons has arguably been surpassed in the public consciousness by the threat of dirty bombs or suitcase nukes. The idea of an old army plan ferrying a potentially deadly biological compound to be destroyed seems almost ridiculous, if only because even the most zealous conspiracy theorist wouldn’t dare to suggest these activities would take place in the American heartland (isn’t that what Area 51 is for?).

The other problem the movie faces is that it repeatedly devolves into something resembling a standard slasher movie.  There’s a sequence with a bonesaw, for example, which feels like it could have been lifted directly from the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Similarly with a pitch-fork-weilding principal. The notion of a person showing up on a pitch filled with children carrying a loaded shotgun is terrifying because it’s the kind of horrible thing that you can pick up the paper and read about – it’s a horror which recalls events which can really occur. Bonesaws and pitchforks are just horror schtick.

That said, the movie is relatively effective. It does manage an occasional sense of menace, and the cast mostly know what they are doing. The music in particular is wonderfully effective at building a creepy atmosphere. The script has fairly clear problems – the most major one being a lack of focus, as the film feels almost like a series of ten-minute episodes- but the production itself is well-handled.

The Crazies doesn’t redefine horror. It doesn’t say anything new or insightful. It does offer some rather rudimentary social commentary, and it demonstrates that some directors in the genre are capable of creating an air of menace without buckets of gore. That said, the film does occasionally veer a little too far into excess, and probably could have done with a firmer structure. Still, it’s not a bad film – you could do a lot worse within the genre – and does contain a jump or two.

One Response

  1. My horror movie recommendation: Check out UK Indie Horror film The Possession of David O’Reilly http://amzn.to/drzxWd

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