I’ve talked about the idea of claustrophobia in films and how it enhances suspense several times in my reviews of horror and suspense movies. But, what if the fear of the unknown is actually in a wide open space, and you have more to fear about the people you actually know than the monsters you don’t? That’s the main question in The Crazies, a remake of the George A. Romero film from 1973 about a small town that is at the mercy of a pandemic and the government trying to contain it. As usual, four words apply here: All Hell breaks loose.
Romero was knowingly making a political statement in his original film. It was about the government’s responsibility and handling of serious issues shortly after Vietnam, and director Breck Eisner thought it was still relevant today. The idea of a government that, when Plan A goes wrong thinks Plan B is total destruction isn’t that far-fetched. Constantly, the cast and crew brought up H1N1 and how the government controlled that. In their minds, they thought, How different could this have been?
Timothy Olyphant plays a sheriff in a tiny town in Iowa called Ogden Marsh, a few miles away from Cedar Rapids. The population is 1,260 people. When he’s forced to shoot one man who’s acting, for lack of a better word, crazy, strange things start happening. Three hunters find a plane sunken in a marsh in town, which has contaminated the water with a biochemical. And then the government steps in. They try to sequester the healthy and quarantine the sickos. It’s a rough ride, as the crazies escape and wreak havoc on the army, forcing them to retreat and then go to plan B: total destruction.
The film is successful in scaring the bejesus out of you, using suspense, horror, and fresh spins on old clichés. The monsters themselves are scary enough, frankly because they aren’t monsters at all. They’re the people we know. The glassy stares penetrate the viewer, and the make-up, expertly created by Almost Human Studios, is so realistic. It’s not horrifying in the way that most zombie thrillers are, or as terribly grotesque, but normal, to an extent. Normal, for one who has caught a horrid virus. The veins pop, the eyes bulge, and it means you’re going to die.
The commentary that the movie offers is a stunning one in a way. What if this did happen? How would our government respond? How quickly could they contain it? Would they go to plan B if they really had to? Well, on that last question, I doubt it, but the idea of it is scary enough. The film starts quickly and never really lets up, giving the overall film a fast and exciting pace. From the second Sheriff David has to shot the crazy old man with the shotgun, you’re on the edge of your seat, anticipating the next phase.
I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the film isn’t the government commentary, rather the idea of not being able to trust the people around you. It’s a tiny town, and everyone knows everyone’s secret. And then to discover that your neighbor is going berserk, when you thought you knew him or her? Isn’t that horrifying? When they’re all around you, sometimes its scarier knowing your attackers than not knowing them. When the enemy is someone you don’t know, the kill is objective, just as much as the fear. But when you know the person well, added to that fear is shock, and a doubt in one’s mind, questioning why someone you knew is doing this. That aspect to me is quite fascinating.
There are, sadly, a few really stupid moments. By stupid, I mean David’s wife goes wandering when she should stay the hell where she is. And she does this a whopping three times throughout the film. This, as well as a few other stupid moments where characters act foolishly, causing the viewer to yell at the scree like a stereotypical black person. But, luckily, it does not mar the overall impression of the film.
I’m not a fan of remakes usually, but here again is proof that one can do it well. In order for it to be a good remake, you have to add something new and fresh to the film and add something that’s unique while still honoring the original source and this film does it. New scare tactics, same story. Sure, this isn’t the first time this story has been brought to the screen or the first time it’s been done well, but it is unique in how scary it is. 28 Weeks Later is very much a similar film, but it wasn’t as scary. It hit more heart strings than adrenal neurons. This is a great horror film; it’s psychologically complex, scary as all hell and well done. One of the scariest thrillers since The Silence of the Lambs. Truly fantastic!