I’m sure you get as tired of hearing it as I get of writing it: Here is yet another horror remake.
At least this new version of “The Crazies” has one thing that the 1973 George Romero original was lacking—a real sense of community among the soon-to-be-afflicted. It may be achieved through mere glimpses and character stereotypes, but director Breck Eisner gives the inhabitants of small town Ogden Marsh, Iowa enough of a pulse to make their transformation into mindless, zombie-like killers just a little more tragic.
How would you like it if your friends and neighbors suddenly turned on you; if the principal of the local high school decided to go around stabbing hospital patients in the chest with a pitchfork as they lie helpless—strapped down and face up—on their beds?
That’s the concept that drives at least the first third of the movie, as Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, in his frustrated do-right “Deadwood” mode) is forced to gun down a rifle-toting local man in front of a crowd at the high school baseball season opener. Eventually he and the Deputy (Joe Anderson) figure out what is slowly turning the town into “crazies,” and the pair are on the run with the Sheriff’s wife, who is also the town’s doctor (Radha Mitchell).
Like the dialogue-heavy original, our leading lady is pregnant, raising the stakes on the is-she-or-isn’t-she-infected question and adding an extra sense of urgency to the couple’s plight. Also like the Romero pic, there are disturbing family scenarios played out such as a father who loses his mind and slowly and methodically murders his wife and kid for no reason.
However, where Romero moved straight into the socio-political criticism (especially the heavy-handed and talky anti-military stuff), Eisner and adapters Scott Kosar and Ray Wright concentrate more on moving the plot along quickly and creating memorable suspense scenes. Romero may have had more to say about bureaucracy in the face of a crisis, but his version was stage-bound due to an over-reliance on carping between authority figures.
This re-imagining of “The Crazies” walks the line between comedy and horror a couple times—most memorably in an absurd sequence that takes place in a car wash and a laugh-out-loud moment in the morgue. Even then, Eisner is singularly focused on making the audience identify with its main characters, and it ramps up the tension.
By focusing on his trio’s mission to avoid the troops brought in to contain the outbreak, Eisner pushes the other townfolk to the background. This is quietly effective, especially in one violent riot scene that is shot from afar, as if to emphasize how the city has become detached from their real selves.
The movie covers a lot of ground in 100 minutes, even giving the faceless, gas-masked military a moment for the audience to briefly empathize with them.
By the end of the film, the scope has widened for better and for worse. One terrifically staged CGI moment lends the film a dramatic breadth that’s only hinted at by earlier cutaways. These cutaway shots lend the film a little mystery and suggest a bigger force is at work. By the last shot of the movie, though, it’s hard to wonder if the filmmakers were serious about the themes they suggested or just threw in some sad irony as a lark.
Either way, this remake of “The Crazies” is similar to its predecessor in that it is very of its time. Eisner is trading in Romero’s overstated anti-Vietnam War sentiment for a more subtle yet healthy distrust of the government and some mourning of the death of the traditional family unit.