THE CRAZIES (2010 version): A Sharper Focus Into Heartland Mayhem

There was an outcry from horror fans when the remake of The Crazies was announced.  Despite the original film’s flawed nature, anything with the name “George Romero” on it tends to be considered hallowed ground by genre enthusiasts.  It didn’t help that the film was being done by a director (Breck Eisner) not known for horror and used zombie-style makeup for the advanced phases of its titular infected agressors.  Even the more open-minded horrorphiles were left wondering if it would be just another Hollywood smash-and-grab of a vintage concept.

Thankfully, the 2010 version of The Crazies is a lot better than it first seemed.  It makes a few mistakes along the way but it also represents a leaner, more focused version of the original film’s concept.  Better yet, it hits the required suspense beats in an effective and often inspired fashion.

Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s script retains several key plot elements and heartland setting of the original film but delivers them in a more streamlined style.  David (Timothy Olyphant) is the sheriff of a small town in Iowa who finds himself on the wrong side of public opinion after he is forced to shoot a blank-eyed, shotgun-toting citizen who threatened a kids’ baseball game.  Meanwhile, his doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) is shocked when a man she examined for health problems goes insane and torches his family’s home.

With the help of his deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson), David discovers that a military plane crashed into a nearby lake that feeds into the town’s water supply.  Unfortunately, their realization that a biological weapon in the plane has contaminated the town coincides with the arrival of the military, who begin herding the townspeople into an internment camp and shooting dissenters.  David, Judy and Russell team up with another escapee and try to escape the chaos as the military and the infected townspeople close in from either side.

The best thing about the remake of The Crazies is its no-nonsense attitude: while it shows respect and admiration for its source material, it also pares it down to a manageable plotline.  The protagonists register more strongly because they are the main focus and serve as our eyes and ears into the film’s world.  The film jettisons the military subplots that cluttered the original film, limiting to their face time to the occasional broad stroke (a scared and uninformed foot soldier, a bureaucrat who remains unapologetic even with a gun aimed at him) that sells the military’s dehumanized menace better than a barrage of scenes could.  The filmmakers understand many viewers are apprehensive about the government’s ability to handle such situations in a post-Katrina/9-11 America and effectively play on that fear.

It also helps that The Crazies is populated with strong actors who engage the audience without overdoing it.  Olyphant makes a strong leading man, thoughtful but ready to fight.  Mitchell is a worthy co-lead, delivering emotion without devolving into hysterics and handling her part of the action nicely.  However, the best performance might come from Anderson as the deputy: what could have been another comic relief/second-banana role becomes quite emotionally affecting as the situation takes its toll on the character and Anderson calibrates his mental/emotional shifts with subtlety and style.

The Crazies also boasts inspired direction by Breck Eisner.  The script’s jittery tone is punctuated by a string of setpieces that turn everyday places – a car wash, a baby’s nursery, a truck stop – into arenas for horrific showdowns and Eisner digs into each of these beats with gusto.  The results play well, especially a truly squirm-inducing moment in the town’s morgue involving a bonesaw.  He has the occasional stylistic lapse (a jump scare every so often, some unnecessary shaky-cam and flash-cutting near the end) but overall shows a greater knack for suspense and atmosphere than you would expect from a first-time horror director.

In fact, this remake really doesn’t run into trouble until the last 10 minutes.  At this point, the plot begins to run out of steam and stretches for a final setpiece that strains credibility.  However, the actors continue to deliver nicely to the end credits and the parting shot has a satiric bite that aligns itself with Romero’s film.  Flaws and all, the 2010 redux of The Crazies is one of the best entries in the modern horror-remake cycle.

5 Replies to “THE CRAZIES (2010 version): A Sharper Focus Into Heartland Mayhem”

  1. It’s obvious that the plot in the remake is more thick, but immo this got its own share of problemes. Mainly, this movie didn’t even attempt to be anymore than a “bad military & zombies” with nothing special going in for it.
    In the original, I liked how the madness affected different people in different ways. Here they are just infected people in a murder spree, and is very obvious for the audience who is crazy and who not via disfiguration and zombie makeup, so our heroes can dispose of the zombies with no remorse.
    Also, the military were very one-dimensional and I’m tired of that, but I suposse the director is aiming for, as you say, post-katrina / 9-11 american audiences and maybe I did not got the full point.
    So I was dissapointed, but to be honest I was a dissapointed too with the original 🙂 Add some “cat scares” and that annoying shaky cam and to me it was an entertaining but forgeteable horror film… Maybe in another 25 year I can get “The Crazies” movie I’m waiting for!

    1. All interesting points. I think the movie thrives on its minimalistic/direct approach but I can also see where it would disappoint someone expecting the complexity of the original film. I agree that the use of zombie makeup was disappointing in comparison to the “faceless” nature of the condition in the original film.

      That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the film’s effectiveness and commitment to dark, adult-friendly horror. Today’s post-Dawn Of The Dead horror remakes are mostly awful so I’m thrilled when a remake gets it at least 75-80% right. I can live with that kind of percentage from Hollywood.

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