Saturday, February 27, 2010
TEFB REVIEW: THE CRAZIES
Directed by Breck Eisner
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
For almost the past decade the horror-remake train has been running full-steam ahead. Hollywood has locked down a formula for these remakes, and nigh every one of them follows it. Hire an up-and-coming director (usually a first feature filmmaker), cast either unknowns or "Hey I Know That Guy" faces, throw a fair amount of blood at the screen, and, this is the most important, make sure it looks super, super slick. The formula has proven more hit miss than hit - for every surprisingly good redo (Dawn of the Dead 2004 - for my money the best of the bunch) there are two or three atrocious ones (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Amityville Horror, Halloween). Sure they all look slick, but very rarely do you get a director who can do anything other than fill the frame with pretty (and grisly) images.
The Crazies is based on the George Romero 1973 film of the same name. It's been too long since I've seen the original, so I can't comment too much on the remake's fidelity to it, but I do know the basic premise remains the same: the residents of a small town become infected by a virus that slowly turns them crazy when it enters their drinking water. The government soon steps in - by sending in the military to contain the virus (re: exterminating) the residents, and a small band of townsfolk band together to escape.
In this film the small band of townsfolk is made up of Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the Sheriff's Deputy Russell (Joe Anderson), and town-girl Becca (Danielle Panabaker). Through the course of the film they must not only fend off those infected by the virus (dubbed "crazies" by the military), they must also out-run the soldiers sent to keep the virus from spreading by any means necessary.
Director Breck Eisner follows in the footsteps of those modern horror directors commissioned to film remakes of older films. Directors like Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th), Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), and Andrew Douglas (The Amityville Horror). Like those directors, he makes The Crazies look slick. Unlike Romero's original, you can tell this film was shot with a fairly reasonable budget. Thankfully Eisner, a first time horror director, understands the genre and relentlessly paces The Crazies with set-piece after set-piece (the best being set in a car-wash). He also has a good eye for frame composition - a bird's eye-view shot over a lake shows the blurry image of a plane under the water, "crazies" move in and out of the background unbeknownst to our main characters - and even when the story becomes predictable (which it is straight from the opening credits) what's going on in front of the camera keeps the audience from losing attention. Eisner has an instinct for what unnerves us, and he uses that instinct to great effect in The Crazies.
As good as Eisner is behind the camera, it's a shame his cast doesn't help him out in front of it. Timothy Olyphant displays none of the charisma he displayed in films like Go, and Radha Mitchell is equally as drab. The only performance of note is Joe Anderson as Russell. He gets some of the screenplay's best lines, and he has a blast spitting them out. He turns in a great performance in a genre not known for them.
With a craftier screenplay and a better cast, The Crazies could possibly have been a modern horror classic. As it is, it's a more than above average genre film that's quite fun and enjoyable. It's a respectable entry into the modern day horror canon.