Breck Eisner’s remake of George Romero’s 1973 film “The Crazies” is a perfectly fine little B-movie. I don’t mean that in a bad, disparaging way because the film is passable, kinda creepy and fairly entertaining. Plus any studio effort in the “R” rated horror area should be lauded. I am also a fan of movies that fall into the “B” category as they can be schlocky, fun and have a point to make, especially when there’s some dark, paranoid undercurrents to them. The very best B-movies are the ones that contain some kind of allegory or social commentary on threats and fears we all face. Even the classic, cheaply-made Film Noirs (which were considered B-movies) touched on subjects like Freudian fears, existentialism and post war worries Americans had upon returning home.
George Romero’s classic zombie films were about similar issues and then later were a mixed bag of commentary on Reagan-era society and the “me” era of the 1980’s. While this updated version of “The Crazies” plays nicely in the B-movie horror genre and carries a nice dose of tension, there’s really nothing going on beneath the surface. Couple that with some half-baked plot lines and inconsistent use of the film’s unleashed virus, and we get a film that’s just okay, when it could have been much better.
The basic plot of “The Crazies” is that the townspeople in the quiet farming community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, are behaving in a murderous and, yes, crazy way. Some kind of virus has seeped into the town and, at first, people just seem really spaced out as they dully repeat random non sequiturs over and over again. Doctor Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) can’t figure out what’s going on and neither can her husband, Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) who had to gun down an apparently drunken local who stammered into a high school baseball game carrying a loaded rifle. Soon the virus spreads and people are going on murderous rampages but the plot thickens when the U.S. government swoops in and makes things worse after they quarantine the town.
In a world where anthrax, H1N1, e-coli, terrorism and global warming are all scary, real threats, I was kind of stunned “The Crazies” didn’t allude to any of these things as a reason for the town’s growing insanity. There’s simply something making these people sick that is very clearly explained and that’s that. When the government shows up, I was awaiting for the film to dovetail into some kind of commentary about the overly vigilant world we live in but that never emerged either. Add to that the fact that the disease or virus infecting people has no real rules or clarity to it and the movie just becomes a basic exercise in high tension and simple scares. Some townsfolk are like bloodthirsty zombies while others seem like really pissed off rednecks looking to kill for kicks and, again, that’s not the worst thing a film can do. There’s some good jumps and taut scenes and, if nothing else, “The Crazies” is entertaining and capably directed. I just wanted a little more meat and potatoes plot wise.
Curbing those issues, “The Crazies” really is an enjoyable time at the movies, mostly due to the cast and the well-done set pieces in the film. Timothy Olyphant plays a great every-man and I’ll cop to being a big fan of his work. He’s got a presence onscreen that almost immediately pulls you onto his side, even when he’s playing a skeezy character as he did in “Live Free and Die Hard” and “The Girl Next Door.” Here he’s a nice-guy sheriff who just happens to be in the wrong town at the wrong time. Radha Mitchell remains gorgeous with a certain frail toughness to her and Joe Anderson as Sheriff Dutton’s sidekick, Deputy Clank, is extremely likable as well. But other than these core characters, we’re never allowed access to anyone else in the film in terms of character development. As a result, when and if they get infected, it’s a bummer but nothing else. “The Crazies” isn’t the worst horror film you’ll see nor is it the best. It’s a decently made horror film that serves it’s purpose which is to freak you out a little bit but not really make you think. If you like your movies fairly brainless and fun, you can do no better than “The Crazies.”