[Review by Luke Mullen.]
Ogden Marsh, Iowa is a small town with a Cheers vibe. Everybody knows your name. There's just the one doctor in town, a short main drag, and a small sheriff's station. It's the kind of town you might want to raise a family in, sending your kids down the street to Ogden Marsh School, home of the Tigers. It may as well be Mayberry. That's why it's so disturbing when you see the friends and neighbors you know so well start to kill each other.
The Crazies, based on the 1973 film of the same name, isn't a zombie film, but it evokes a lot of the same fears. The people you once knew, drank beer with, watched football with, they're not themselves anymore. They've changed, seemingly capable of anything. And before it's all over, you might just have to kill a few of them to survive.
The story focuses on Sheriff David Dutton, played by Timothy Olyphant, his deputy, Russell, and his wife, Judy, the town doctor, and her teenage assistant, Becca. Dutton quickly discovers the source of the infection spreading through his town, but before he has much chance to do anything about it, the military rushes in, canvassing the town and establishing a quarantine perimeter around. The townsfolk are all rounded up and tested, the sick separated from the healthy. But, as is so often the case, things go terribly wrong.
The film does a great job of showing instead of telling. Instead of leaning heavily on dialogue or voice-over to explain things, there are shots explaining things from character back-stories to military maneuvers. It's a nice contrast to films that seem to jam plot points down your throat.
Whereas Romero's original film focused all but exclusively on the military and their motivations, struggles with the events, director Breck Eisner's version is a much more personal film, zeroing in a small group of people doing all they can to make it out alive. As such, it plays, not so much as a remake, as it does a film shot of the exact same event from a completely different perspective. It certainly makes it a more accessible film since it's so easy to relate to Dutton as the everyman trying to save his wife and his friends. In a lot of ways, this film is reminiscent of Carriers, and almost plays like a pre-quel. A double feature starting with The Crazies would lead into Carriers quite well, both following a small group of people, one trying to escape the immediate outbreak and the other having already dealt with it and having to try to live in a world destroyed by it.
From the first scene on the baseball diamond, there's an almost immediate sense of foreboding. Partially because, from the trailers, or the original film, or casual conversations, the majority of the audience already knows where this is going. But credit should be given to the film as well, for fostering that feeling of dread and creating a solid atmosphere that really gets the viewer involved in the story. In fact, one of the creepiest things of the whole film is the sound design. If you've seen the poster, you know there's a guy lugging a huge hayfork around. The sound it makes as he drags it across the floor puts you on pins and needles. The same concept is used with a surgical saw bouncing on tile, and a knife scratching down a wall. It's almost like Freddy scraping his glove of knives over the pipes in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
It's not all roses though. Effective though they were, the filmmakers relied just a little too heavily on jump scares and those over the shoulder shots where the audience sees a threat that a character doesn't. In fact, it seemed like exactly one scene too many of each. Cut those out and it wouldn't have become a slight annoyance. Also, the pace slowed down a bit too much in a few scenes towards the end. Neither of those flaws stopped it from being a really enjoyable film though.
All in all, The Crazies is a lot of fun and a solid entry in the horror genre. It assumes the audience is smart enough to interpret things on their own, which is refreshing. Olyphant does great work in the lead role, and I'd love to see him try another horror film sometime soon. The sound effects work is top-notch and it can really get to you. There are some decent scares and without doubt the best knife through the hand scene, if not ever, then certainly in quite some time. If you're a horror fan you should definitely make time to see The Crazies this weekend.