Monday, October 25, 2010

The Crazies

Out of all the “major” horror movies I saw all year (which is just about all of them except Piranha and Saw 7), this was second only to Splice for my favorite. That’s not to mean that this was all that great -- indeed, it straddles the line of “pretty good” quite impressively -- so much as that, like most years in recent memory, all of the best horror movies either got limited theatrical releases, or went straight to DVD and Blu-Ray. Of course, it’s also reminiscent of a great deal of mainstream horror movies from the past decade, in that it’s a remake of an older, better horror movie.

The film follows Sheriff Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife (Radha Mitchell), a doctor in a small town in Iowa, who find that the citizens of their community are all beginning to turn insane. The sheriff and his deputy (Joe Anderson) soon discover that a military plane crashed into the river that gives the town its water supply, and since the people are going crazy in the order that the water supply reaches them, he immediately rushes to the mayor and demands the water be shut off everywhere (and in a nice moment, when the mayor decides to be a movie stereotype and refuses, claiming it would kill the town to do so with planting season starting up, Olyphant ignores him and shuts off the water anyway). Unfortunately, it’s a bit late, as most of the town is going crazy, and the military has shown up to arrest everyone and enact some confused efforts where they seem to alternate between separating everyone by infected or uninfected, tying people to beds and then abandoning them to being victims of the infected, and just nuking the site from orbit. It’s just a mad dash to the end for sheriff and company to escape the town without being killed by the crazies or the military.

First, let me mention where things went right for this movie. Director Breck Eisner (whose previous film Sahara I also thought was fun fluff) prudently decided that he probably couldn’t match George Romero’s original film when it came to the social commentary, so he stripped most of it out and just filled the film with a shit-ton (yes, this is an industry term) more action scenes, making the remake much faster-paced to boot. This actually seems to be a pattern with remakes of Romero films, as Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead did the same thing (though the less said about Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead, the better). In keeping with the increased action, the blood is also ramped up a bit (though the original was plenty bloody as well), and the benefits of having an actual budget meant they could hire actual quality actors for once, which was always a bit of a rarity with Romero’s old films. Indeed, the whole effort is much more polished than the original.

So where does it go wrong? Well, in a way, it becomes a little bit too slick and polished for its own good. For whatever flaws the original had, the cheap roughness of it perfectly matched a story about people getting a virus that turns them into borderline zombies (not the undead kind, the 28 Days Later kind that I’m sure someone is going to tell me don’t count), whereas this remake is so busy showing off how many camera and editing tricks it can do that it frequently dulls the edge of the story. Another big flaw is the screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright -- while parts of the film work very well, there’s also quite a few plot holes, especially where the military is concerned. With all of the rapidly changing behavior on the part of the soldiers (Are they rounding everyone up? Are they killing everyone? Are they quarantining the town? What?) it seems less like the military is changing its plans to deal with new circumstances than it feels like the plans are being changed depending on what the story needs to be doing right that moment to be most menacing to our heroes. Quite frankly, it’s lazy writing. I won’t spoil what nonsense happens at the end (though the trailer has no such qualms), but I will say that if you loved the film version of The Sum of All Fears, then you may well enjoy the ending more than I did.

Of course, this really isn’t the kind of film that one goes to because they’re hoping it will be really smart and clever, is it? If all you’re looking for is a little of that nice ultraviolence, You won’t be disappointed here. It’s a perfectly agreeable way to sit around and watch people die in various set pieces (my favorites being at the morgue, where a bonesaw comes into play, and at a car wash, where we get one of the most wonderfully ridiculous zombie attacks in film, where we can’t actually see any of them because of all the soap and fabric strips moving over the car). It just unfortunately doesn’t seem to want to try to be anything more than that, when with just a couple more script revisions it could have really been something special.

Rating: ** ½

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