Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Frank Review of "The Crazies" (2010)

The Short Version? Rage Virus in Bumfuck, U.S.A.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
Should I See It? Maybe.

Despite the original Dawn of the Dead being one of my absolute favorite films, I've never been especially fond of director George A. Romero. I've seen quite a few of his movies, and most fail to make a strong impression. For instance, I rented his 1973 film The Crazies about twenty years ago, and never needed to see it again. Like many zombie nerds, I was expecting a variation on Night of the Living Dead, but with townspeople turned homicidal by a chemical agent, rather than attacked by flesh eating ghouls. I did get a variation, but it was instead amateur local actors in a micro-budget thriller that mostly takes place in one house. What most people take away from it is the anti-military-industrial complex angle, which got grafted onto scores of survival horror projects since (Return of the Living Dead, Resident Evil.) Hell, one of the supposed innovations of 28 Days Later... was simply marrying The Crazies to Romero's Dead films. Anyway, my point is that I can only barely recall the original film as a handful of striking images and transgressive acts. Beyond that, there's only room for improvement in a remake, which I was able to watch with preconceptions.

That said, the modern Crazies owes more to Danny Boyle than George Romero. It's very self-aware, in that it knows you've seen this type of movie before and don't need to be bored by recitation of the obvious. The first crazy person shows up almost immediately, while the leads are all in place within minutes. The cause of the outbreak of infectious lunacy is determined and addressed, obligatory scenes like the town sheriff warning a disinterested mayor are as brief as possible, and the first thirty-minutes hits every obvious beat in shorthand. Your ass is in a theater seat to see crazy people, and the film is cut together to get you crazy people as quickly and with as few obstacles as possible. The flick is very clever and concise in this regard. It is also the film's great failing.

You see, The Crazies is so busy delivering the most obvious and desirable goods to the masses, that it has no actual life outside jump scares and well crafted carnage. The leads are all types that speak in exposition, with no souls or real personalities. You root for them because the alternative is to side with ugly murderous subhumans. There is no text, much less subtext. It is the motion picture as video game proxy. It looks cool and moves fast, so you don't have time to think about how empty it all is. Fans of this genre will find it comfortingly familiar, except for its almost total lack of balls. A dark ending you see set up by the middle point never pays off, the imposing military presence is just scared kids following orders, and any opportunity to say anything with this picture besides "look out for the monsters" is avoided. Because of this, you're pretty sick of the repetitive crazy attacks by the last reel, and are just ready to wrap the damned thing up. It's strictly a popcorn flick, and stale before you leave your seat.

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