This was not a movie I was prepared to like. The last movie I saw from Breck Eisner (yes, he’s Michael Eisner’s son) was the botched Sahara. Coupled with the fact that Eisner’s Hollywood break is no doubt courtesy of his mogul father, Eisner is not a filmmaker I particularly think highly of. To add some more fuel to the fire, I saw the original The Crazies by George Romero a number of years back and you know what? It sucked. So given all this, why would I go out and buy a ticket to see a movie I don’t care to see? Because 1.) the critics surprisingly liked it and 2.) it has a kick-ass trailer that incorporates Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” (click the below link I have provided to check out the trailer). In the end, I was as surprised as the critics by how much I ended up liking this movie.

The Crazies has a very cool premise. It takes place in a small farming town in Iowa (TO MY FRIEND JERRY: Yes, the Hawkeyes are mentioned) where suddenly and mysteriously, the town’s citizens begin to get homicidally nuts for no reason. The town’s sheriff (Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood) and his deputy investigate what the hell is going on, but they’re unable to explain the killings. Before you know it, the military enters the town and contains it, quarantining the town’s citizens. Apparently, there was a government screwup and some sort of virus was accidentally unleashed that causes people to go crazy. Fearful that the virus will spread, the military takes no chances and prevents anyone from leaving the town. Anyone who tries to do so is shot dead on the spot. We follow these series of events through the sheriff, his pregnant doctor wife, and his deputy. They manage to make it out of the town as they battle through soldiers and crazy, infected citizens.

Since seeing him in the excellent Go, I have been a huge fan of Timothy Olyphant. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, check out Go and the HBO TV series Deadwood. Unfortunately, Olyphant has yet to break into big movie star status, but he certainly deserves to. Here, he gives another great performance as the town sheriff. As its written, the role doesn’t really challenge the actor, but he still manages to shape the character into a three-dimensional person you take an interest in.

As great as Olyphant is, the surprise performance in The Crazies comes from Joe Anderson, who plays the sheriff’s deputy. The actor is British, but you wouldn’t know that by watching him play the redneck, small town deputy. As the film begins, his character isn’t more than a supporting player who isn’t given much to do. However, as the shit begins to hit the fan, the deputy really steps it up and his character becomes integral to the story. I immensely enjoyed watching Anderson’s performance and I look forward to seeing him in future projects.

Although its a remake of a 1973 film, The Crazies serves as an allegory of the helplessness and anger our society seems to feel in the face of our current recession. The characters in this movie are hard-working small town citizens who, despite doing everything right, are decimated by a deadly virus (economic recession) and they are helpless to do anything about it. The government sends in the military, but instead of helping anyone or figuring out a real solution, its main concern is to contain the damage its done by destroying anything that even might be infected (our administration’s economic stimulus packages). The characters in this movie are, as a result, fearful of the future, angry at their government’s ineptitude, and helpless to do anything about it. As I said before, the original version of The Crazies came out in 1973, which was also a period of turmoil and unrest in America with Vietnam, the oil crisis, and Watergate raging on.

For a relatively new and inexperienced filmmaker, I was surprised by how well shot and beautiful the film was. Not that it doesn’t contain flaws, but The Crazies contains some nice imagery and shot setups that really impressed me. Although I wish the film didn’t contain the now-common desaturated, cold, grayish look that you see in so many horror and post-apocalyptic type movies, it served the mood and atmosphere the filmmaker was going for. However, I would have preferred to go the opposite direction and given the film a bright and colorful look to directly contrast with the themes and narrative. I have been to Iowa in the summer and it would have looked awesome to have utilized the tall green cornfields and deep blue summer skies instead of the barren fields and gray skies of winter that you see on the screen. Nevertheless, this is a matter of style and the filmmaker did well with what he chose to use.

Of course, The Crazies is far from being perfect. I assume this is attributable to the director’s lack of experience and I’m willing to forgive him more easily for that. I felt the director relied too much on people and objects jumping out at the audience. I don’t mind seeing a little of this, but a film should not primarily rely on cheap scares to frighten the audience or to keep it in suspense. The film should instead rely on horrifying the audience with the depravity of the situation and that is achieved through the narrative (Cloverfield does a good job with this).

Another crutch the director relies too much upon is the typical setup of a character entering a building that initially appears to be empty, but it turns out to be full of deadly creatures. This type of setup is continuous from the beginning to the end of the film and because of this, the movie became predictable. You knew that anytime our characters entered any building, there was going to be trouble. For the type of story this is, the writers should have been able to provide the audience with more creative situations.

Finally, The Crazies suffers from too much predictability. Now this might be because I watch a lot of movies and I tend to know where a film is headed long before the rest of the audience does. I think in this case, however, the filmmakers relied a little too much on conventional devices that gives the film away early on. I’m probably not being fair on this considering this is a remake and the story was probably more original-sounding in 1973. Despite this, The Crazies overcomes this with fine execution so I was able to get over its predictability.

The Crazies is the first film of 2010 that surprised me. I was not expecting anything good out of this and I was proven wrong. Its an entertaining B-movie romp that you will have a lot of fun with.

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