More Bad Press for Small Towns
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
By Tom Bevis
The town is burning. The audience is greeted with the ominous sounds of burning timbers and the whistling of wind. The night hangs over the chaos like a hungry reaper, then the screen blinks out, and just like that, the story begins. There are no opening credits.
The story, a fast-paced thriller about a military quarantine of a small town in Iowa after a biological weapon infects its population and a handful of survivors including a doctor and a sheriff, begins right away, kicking into motion nearly at the opening of the picture. This leaves no time for the audience to get bored and begins a stable pace of break-and-flow for the film. However, it always makes no space for valuable character development early in the game.
However great the pacing was in keeping up the pulse of the picture, the film overall suffers from such scriptural errors as a lack of effective character development, successful explanation and elaboration of key events, and an overall rushed tone to the film. At times, it makes the mistake of using the same trick too many times (which is as many as twice, in this case), and has its own share of cheese buried in the dialog. And a handful of digitalized satellite-map interfaces intended to open the audience’s eyes to the military presence only serves to disturb the flow and overall feel of the film.
But it’s a zombie movie, after all, so it’s allowed that much.
It’s abundantly apparent, even from the trailers alone, that there is not much in the way of lasting artistic value in The Crazies. And that’s entirely fine. The film aims to entertain, to keep the audiences hearts rushing and engage in successful frights when it can, and the cardinal question to ask when judging film is whether or not the film succeeds in what it sets out to do. Indeed, The Crazies isn’t much more than a popcorn picture, something fast and quick to take a date to or to pick fun at with the guys after work.
But the film is observed, most importantly, as an entry into the zombie subgenre of horror, which is enjoying a recent resurgence of popularity. We all know the rules of the Zombie Movie; George Romero (co-writer and director of the original film in which this remake is based) regurgitated these rules six times over, we’ve seen them time and time again, and while the background and causes in these pictures may change, the overall core seems to remain the same.
And that’s why most zombie pictures come off trite, predictable, and recycled.
Modernly, there are only two ways to create a successful zombie movie, and they must both be utilized or risk the pitfalls of every other entry into the genre. The first is to redefine the genre itself, to make the picture its own universe without relying on established mythology. The Crazies definitely tries, but doesn’t have much room, considering fully that it is a remake. The second rule is to never use the zombies as the antagonist in the film, but to rather use it as the backdrop of the action and let the real conflict come from the human drama that unfolds in reaction.
Of this, The Crazies is entirely successful.
The uninfected townspeople are pitted against not only the infect, but against one another, against their own psyches, and against the military forces ordered to contain the outbreak. Understanding this, it seems understandable that the film has few important scenes of the survivors struggling against hoards of unstoppable infected friends and family.
In support of this great success, the film doesn’t rely on the generation of faux horror by abusing scenes of violence and gore. This kind of stimulation hits the stomach and causes a sickening-factor all too often mistaken from horror instead of hitting the deeper minds and psyches of the audience by utilization of authentic suspense. The picture builds a steady cascading rhythm of suspense, building tensions and relaxing, keeping the audience on edge, lulling them down, before pulling the reveal.
This is true, and the effect is powerful and lasting. But walking away from the movie, I couldn’t help but think that there was something missing. This lack of satisfaction can be detrimental for paying customers. No one will enjoy shelling out the twelve dollars to see a movie and still be left wanting. No matter how inventive and easy to watch the film is, this will dock a fair grade to a modern one.
In the end, if one can lower his or her expectations and understand that The Crazies is far from Oscar-caliber work, it can be enjoyable. It is a must-see for fans of the zombie subgenre or of the work of George Romero. It’s an ideal popcorn movie for anyone looking to kill an hour and a half without any major mental investments. Anyone else, though, would be better off to steer clear.