Pierce County is the friendliest place on earth according to the marketing hype for The Crazies, the new horror flick by Breck Eisner, the guy with the dubious honor of directing the upcoming Flash Gordon reboot. Apparently remakes are going to be Eisner’s specialty.
And in all fairness, it might be a good career move. The Crazies is pretty good.
Like the original 1973 film, the new version of The Crazies tells the story of a small town (Ogden Marsh, IA, not Evans City, PA.) beset by madness. With excellent pacing the film introduces our heroes. Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell play David and Judy Dutton. He’s the sheriff of Pierce Country, and she’s the pregnant doctor. It’s not showing yet. When David shoots the town drunk for pointing a shotgun at him in front of deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), two baseball teams, and half the township, eyebrows are raised.
Thing is, the town drunk hasn’t had a beer or a shot in two years. It isn’t long before other folk are acting suspicious, and the ensuing investigation reveals a military cargo plane downed in the river. With the town’s water contaminated, the outlook is anything but good. But before the sheriff can get his wife and friends out of town, the military descends on Pierce County, deadlier than the madness-plagued yokels by far.
Some of Romero’s vision shines through, but this is a tighter, more focused film than the original. Modern horror storytelling techniques are put to good use, and The Crazies pays more attention to the story of four survivors, who are never really certain they’re not infected too, as they struggle against neighbors gone off the deep end and soldiers in hazmat suits. Special effects are employed, you can bank on it, but they support the characters and the story. Gore is used sparingly, with a real focus on enhancing the horror.
I don’t want to mislead anyone, though. Therefore, I have to remind you: The Crazies is a horror movie. The scares are well-timed and effective. There are bodies. Lots of them. Sometimes on fire. The psycho plague does eventually kill its victims, of course, and the necrosis does make them look rather like zombies, which is awesome! The visuals are plentiful, but not over-powering.
In fact, there’s a general sense of balance to the movie that many of today’s horror films miss entirely. This isn’t to say it’s a fine movie for the kiddies or anything, but it doesn’t strive to go over the top either. Pacing, cinematography, design and direction are all focused on the story, not the violence.
It surprised me at first, really, but upon reflection it’s obvious. The very contention of the film is at stake, after all. Bloody gratuities just won’t do for a project like The Crazies. There must be balance.
The acting is solid, and the plot pretty much free of gaping holes, but The Crazies isn’t revolutionary either. It’s a “chili mac” kind of thing, really. Half zombie movie, half psycho thriller, with a dash of family interest and a pinch of buddy flick, the dish turns out both new and familiar. It is nice to see zombies with some real malice of forethought, communication and tool use.
I give The Crazies 7 out of 10 points for a solid story and an enormous explosion I didn’t hate.