Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2010

Crazy but true

Despite its familiarity, 'The Crazies' remake isn't half bad

The Crazies
Overture Films
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenplay: Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, based on a 1973 screenplay by George Romero and Paul McCullough
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby and Larry Cedar
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
< (out of four)

What's most obvious about Breck Eisner's The Crazies is an inescapable sense of familiarity. We can start, of course, with the fact that it's a remake of a 1973 film by George Romero. But it's not just that. It's the postapocalyptic doom that sets in once the wheels of the plot are in motion - a postapocalyptic doom that has become so commonplace at the movies in recent years.

It's leading man Timothy Olyphant, once again playing a small-town cop, just like he did in Deadwood and just like he does in his new TV show, Justified.

And yet I can't hold any of these things against The Crazies. First of all, I have never seen Romero's original, so I had nothing to compare it to.

Secondly, the setting is (mercifully) not just a trendy apocalypse-as-set-decoration facade that we've gotten so much of lately, but a committed, small-scale horror film that happens to depict apocalyptic circumstances. Big difference.

Not surprisingly considering the source, The Crazies is essentially a zombie movie - even though, by the rather rigid definition of some, the characters aren't technically zombies. With deference to them, let's just call them Unofficial Zombies. They may not be the walking undead, but they have most of the same characteristics. The blank stare, the lethargic demeanor, the thirst for killing fellow townsfolk, etc.

Anonymous surveillance footage periodically pops up to clue us into the fact that this is not just some supernatural anomaly. The people of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, are under watch for a reason. Naturally, it will be the town sheriff, David Dutton (Olyphant), that figures out that reason. Oh, I know your next question: Does he figure it out in time? No, silly. It's far too late.

While there's not as much build-up as perhaps it could have used, the film succeeds in the way it relies on moments of eerie atmospherics rather than the ever-popular jump scares. At times, director Breck Eisner is surprisingly, and impressively, patient in the way he lets subtle details sit and lie in waiting.

There's a great sequence that takes place between two characters at a roadside diner and truck stop. In one shot, we see the woman at the counter, pouring herself a drink. But what we really see is something in the lower-left corner of the frame. We see it, and we know that she will see it. But not yet. Eisner holds her discovery of this certain something even longer than I expected - not only stretching the tension for a few extra seconds, but giving him time to reveal another detail that only heightens the significance of the first one.

The actors all do a fine job - Olyphant as the everyman sheriff, Radha Mitchell as his wife and (how quaint) the town doctor, Danielle Panabaker as a cute local teenager and Joe Anderson as the sheriff's deputy, whose function in the film is to show up at opportune moments. (If a character is about to be prematurely killed off, rest assured Deputy Russell will show up at the last second to save the day. If there's an ominous rustling in the darkness and we're scared of what it might be, rest assured it's only him.)

A certain dynamic develops between these four characters, based as much in fear and emotional desperation as the survival instinct. What if one of the four has become infected? They rarely broach the subject, but we know it's on their minds.

The Crazies doesn't do anything particularly unique, but it pulls off scene after scene with such effectiveness that I found myself enjoying the film more as it went along. There are also some striking images, including one late in the film (you'll know it) whose scope I wasn't quite prepared for.

As a general rule, I'd rather we limited the number of remakes, reboots and retreads we see at the theatre. (After all, with all the existing properties getting remade, what properties will we pillage 25 years from now?) But for what it's worth, this one does the job, remake or not.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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