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The International Writers Magazine: Film 2010

The Crazies
Director: Breck Eisner
Writer: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
Sam Faulkner


The Crazies is currently doing decent box-office business, thanks no doubt to the wide–reaching advertising campaign employed to promote the latest horror remake, coming out of Overture Films. As a genre piece in its own right, it makes for an effective shocker which pushes all the right buttons, but as a remake it provides an interesting antidote to the swell of glossy Hollywood rehashes which have populated the horror landscape over the last 10 years or so.
                Horror remakes can be hit and miss – the recent version of The Wicker Man with Nicholas Cage abandoned the chilling bleakness of its source for what became an almost accidental comedy film – the most memorable thing about it being the compilation of terrible dialogue that can be found on YouTube (Check it out, if only for Cage’s cries of “Not the Bees!”, delivered with all the gravitas of a man who’s missed his stop on the tube). On the other hand, the odd gem can appear, with an excellent example being John Carpenters’ The Thing, a reimagining done the right way – not shamelessly ripping off the original film, but revisiting the same source material, John W Campbells’ novella Who Goes There?. Carpenter's seminal horror recovered from a box-office pasting to be considered one of the finest horrors of the last 30 years, in the opinion of many surpassing the original take on Campbell’s book.
                The Crazies wisely adopts a similarly unorthodox approach to the remake, avoiding original material considered a classic. The original George A Romero movie is not treated with the same reverence as his infamous “Deadology”, but presents an intriguing premise which would always benefit from modern filmmaking techniques, and a budget greater than its £250,000. Choosing a more obscure work to adapt reduces the risk of fan and critical reception being poor – the upcoming revisiting of Nightmare on Elm Street, for example, has already got horror fans divided on the back of just a few production shots and promotional stills.
                Rookie director Breck Eisner handles the pitch well, nailing the tone of the film superbly. We are presented with an outbreak of a biological agent which causes everyday folk in the Iowa town of Ogden Marsh to become dead-behind-the-eyes killers, hell bent on destruction and the cold blooded murder of friends and family. The US military is called in to resolve the situation, and resort to violence and containment, leading to the characters facing a battle on two fronts, to escape the marauding townsfolk, but struggling to break the quarantine the military have imposed. What sounds like a straightforward chase and hide flick manages, however, to introduce a degree of moral ambiguity into the equation - while we root for the heroes to survive the disaster, the military are after all only trying to contain a potentially devastating virus. It would be all too easy for screenwriters Scott Kosar and Ray Wright to portray the government forces as the evil spectre hovering over the community, but the scene in which a soldier confirms “I didn’t sign up to shoot unarmed civilians”, denouncing the brutal orders handed to him, confirms a sensitive handling of a relevant subject at the heart of the script. Eisner has confirmed that it was important to portray the military as a machine used for evil, rather than a group of evil individuals – a flair for social commentary shared with Romero. The scale on which the action is presented really immerses the viewer, with the unnerving feeling that there may be no escape, with the threat level rarely lowered for the entire film. Perhaps the only piece of direction that jars is the occasional satellite shots, which present the viewpoint of a military surveillance unit. These do stand out like a sore thumb in a movie which otherwise shows events through the eyes of a small number of characters, but are useful in advancing the plot.
                The cast is a relatively unknown one, with Hitman’s Tim Olyphant as the town sheriff at the centre of the mess. Olyphant puts in a good performance as the gruff and dedicated lawman, determined to protect his wife, played by Radha Mitchell as they make their escape. The two leads perform their roles well, even if they are a little archetypal.  Mitchell’s selfless town doctor is much like Olyphants sheriff in that the characters will feel a little familiar to genre fans, but their chemistry works well, leading us to really fear for their safety and that of their two companions.

crazies The film’s greatest strength lies in its set-pieces, with a particularly chilling scene in which Mitchell is strapped to a hospital gurney along with several infected people in a makeshift ward, with her friend Becca next to her.

An ominous scraping is revealed to be a pitchfork wielding maniac, who begins to systematically slaughter the detainees, working his way towards the two helpless women. It is just one of a series of well–executed, if a little predictable, scares. A character peers through a keyhole to check for danger, and most audience members will predict the outcome, but many will still jump at all the right moments, and want to look away at some of the superb make-up and special effects work providing the goriest moments.
                                The Crazies, then, may not be one for non–horror fans, but its ambitious storytelling, well casted leads and occasional black humour lend itself well to the source material. This film, along with Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend are encouraging signs that remakes might not always be a write-off before they begin. The Crazies comes highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a tense, gruesome and disturbing horror movie. Heres hoping that Nightmare on Elm Street fares this well....
© Sam Faulkner March 7th 2010

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