Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Crazies" (2010)

Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson
Written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright
Directed by Breck Eisner

David (Timothy Olyphant) is the sheriff of the small farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa.  On opening day of the high school's baseball season, a man walks onto the field carrying a shotgun.  David confronts him in front of much of the town's youth, and is forced to kill him dead.  At first, David believes the man was just drunk, but the medical examiner's tests prove otherwise.  Soon after, another man locks his wife and child in a closet and burns down the house.

As the bodies begin to pile up in the morgue, several hunters discover a downed plane in the river nearby.  Unfortunately, the river drains into some of the town's drinking water, and David starts to think that something in the plane must have gotten into the water.  Not long after, the military arrives and begins rounding up all the townspeople, testing them and separating them into fenced-off areas.  David's pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell) is separated from David for running a high body temperature.  David tries to tell the soldiers she only has a fever because she's pregnant, but they wont' listen.  David eventually meets up with his deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson) and the two manage to slip away back into town to try to rescue Judy.

Now trapped inside a town being quarantined by the government and increasingly full of "crazies," David, Judy, Russell and a young woman named Becca (Danielle Panabaker) must make their way back to David and Judy's residence where they might be able to find a working car.

"The Crazies" is based on a 1973 film of the same name by genre hero George Romero.  This 2010 remake is pretty dang good.  I haven't seen the original to compare the two, but I had fun watching this one.  There's lots of genuinely creepy moments, some good scares, and a few really tense sequences.  What keeps the film from growing stale is the fact that the survivors don't have to contend with just the murderous infected, but with the heavily armed soldiers out to stop the infection from spreading - by any means necessary.  They must also contend with the very real possibility that one or all of them may themselves be sick.  Judy and David suspect that Russell has been infected, and Russell suspects everyone has been infected.  Is their erratic behavior due to the fact that they haven't slept in two days or because the virus is driving them nuts?

Director Eisner creates a fine sense of dread and futility that permeates the film.  Lots of movies with similar premises seem to show the government as unable to contain these kinds of outbreaks. But "The Crazies" portrays a military that definitely has things under control.  David and the others find their ways out of the town blocked at every turn as the soldiers disable or destroy every vehicle, set up roadblocks and spike strips and patrol the entire area, taking out anything that moves, infected or not.  Frankly, this makes the military characters almost as frightening as the crazies, and just as dangerous.

One interesting scene has David and the others confronting one of these soldiers, who tells them he has no idea what's going on, either.  He didn't even know what state he was in until he saw the license plates on the cars, he tells them.  We learn precious little about the virus that infects the town; the only information comes from a government official that Russell runs off the road, who informs the group that the virus, code-named "Trixie," was engineered and accidentally got loose when the plane went down.

What's interesting about the infection is that it doesn't create straight-up zombies, either.  The crazies are still capable of firing guns and other tasks, even sometimes talking... but they're insane and murderous.

 Most of the film's set pieces are fairly short, even the climax as David and Judy deal with infected crazies at a truck stop.  There aren't any larger sequences with crowds of crazies, which can make the film seem kind of small, or even unimportant.  But the tone of the film is right, and Eisner and his writers go for having several smaller, but well-made encounters rather than massive action sequences.  It works, even if it's kind of obvious.  My favorite is probably a sequence where the characters are trapped inside a car going through a car wash, with crazies attacking from the outside.  I thought this was a great idea, and it's really a well-made sequence.

"The Crazies" is good fun.  It's no great classic, but a good way to spend a couple hours on Halloween.