An idyllic American town plunges into murder and mayhem after a toxin finds its way into the water supply, leaving a sheriff, his deputy, his wife and her friend to survive a town now peopled by The Crazies in what looks an awful lot like a zombie apocalypse. Sound familiar?
While this is no Left 4 Dead, there's plenty about the remake of 1973's The Crazies that will feel familiar to fans of zombie games and movies. Lets see if it's worth the nearly two hours to check out.
Zombie 2.0: How quickly we grow bored of zombies, or at least the way they were created and how they behave. What started as an off-shoot of voodoo rituals and resulted in mindless, ambling, brain-eating undead, has seen quite a few changes over the year. The slow, moving, unthinking zombies of movies like White Zombie and Dawn of the Dead, gave way to faster unthinking zombies in movies like 28 Days Later, Resident Evil: Extinction and Zombieland. The Crazies brings us a kind of zombie that, while slowly decaying and murderous, can still plan out attacks and use tactics.
The In Cold Blood: What makes zombies creepy on such a deep level is the fact that they don't make sense. The dead stay dead, they don't get up and start eating you. The Crazies magnifies this uncanny effect by setting the entire movie in a tiny isolated Iowa town where everyone knows everyone. It's frightening not just because of the startles and mayhem you witness, but because deep down you know violence like this isn't supposed to ever happen in small towns in America's heartland.
The Moral of the Story: The Crazies, as Fahey pointed out on Friday, is a remake of a 1973 movie of the same name. The 70s original was directed by the king of zombies himself: George A. Romero. Like other Romero movies, The Crazies was a film very much tied to the current events surrounding its release. While 1968's Night of the Living Dead took careful aim at the American society of that decade, The Crazies seems more driven by the politics of its time, landing in the midst of a general distrust of the government driven by Vietnam, the Watergate imbroglio and President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.
In the '70s version, the movie worked best as a critique of the moral ambiguity of Nixon and concerns over the war. That version followed a Vietnam veteran turned firefighter, and elements of the story included scenes of Washington politics. In the remake, the movie's government is faceless and heartless. The only responsible party ever show is a sweaty white guy pulled from a Cadillac Escalade, who asks the hero sheriff "What do you expect of me." "An apology," is the reply, driving home, perhaps, the fact that the movie isn't just talking about zombies, but something more.
Scares: Fans of frightening movies should get a kick out of the flick's skillful navigation around the typical startle moments in a scary movie. The mirror scare, the closet scare, the happy music scare, most of these and other horror clichés get little attention in this film, which instead finds new ways to squeeze our a few screams from its viewers.
Tension: Early in, the movie slowly cranks up the emotional tension and it never turns it back down. The pacing delivers a taut tale, an unwavering movie that blasts past you in a single gasp. Tight editing, camera work and plot deliver a film with little wasted moments and no time to relax until the very, sadly expected ending.
Throwaway Cast: A sheriff, a nurse, a deputy, a frightened teen, The Crazies isn't very creative in forming its band of survivors. Even the male to female ratio is dead on. With so little effort put into central characters, it would have been nice to see something interesting happen in terms of emotional development or relationships, but that too falls desperately short.
Forgettable: Zombie movies have been done to death, recreating a '70s movie means that you're starting out decades behind where horror movies have gone since. Unfortunately, The Crazies doesn't seem to recognise that. The end result is a movie, that while not bad, is certainly forgettable. Maybe that's worse.
Too Safe: The scares, the themes, the gore are all very adult, but the terror of the movie feels watered down. It's as if the team behind The Crazies were afraid to stray too far from the original, or push too hard against the conventions of zombie apocalypse movies.
The Ending: If you've seen a zombie infestation movie, you know how this one ends. It's unfortunate that a movie so smartly written manages to still fall back on the biggest zombie flick cliché of all, undermining all of that build up and subtext.
The Crazies has its moments, it's certainly a tense movie, but ultimately it doesn't go far enough to deliver the scares or enough of the gore that fans of the genre will be expecting. I was expecting, hoping, for the sorts of moments that these movies are best at delivering: Frightening, unsettling tableaus of horror. The notion of a more meaningful theme in the movie also falls apart in the end with The Crazies ultimately falling back on a trite finale and half-baked conclusion.
The Crazies was directed by Breck Eisner and distributed by Overture Films on February 24.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.