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.