The Crazies (2010) is a surprisingly good film. It drives along quickly, yet manages to keep the tension tight throughout.
*Here be spoilers*
Having never seen the George A. Romero original, my expectations of the film’s storyline were wrong, which worked out enjoyably. I assumed that this would be more of a 30 Days of Night story: hero man and wife/girlfriend try to help other townspeople survive as a small town is ravaged by some people with zombie qualities. But the military part of the story meant that the first half an hour of the film had to speed along, quickly checking the boxes of a town gone wrong. And it did. Mere minutes pass before the first Crazy appears. David (Timothy Olyphant) is sheriff of this here small town. And before he can even finish his first dang coffee, he has to put a shot in somebody’s melon. From there it gets worse (of course it does). David’s wife, Judy, gets herself into some perilous situations. Soon the whole town has gone mental, by way of some crazy juice in the water supply. Handily, both David and Judy’s assistants are showing no signs of loonyness. The four team up and try to escape the town.
And, god, the Army aren’t helping. One of their planes had crashed into a nearby river. A plane full of crazy juice. That shit got into the water supply, and we know what happened (hint: crazies). The military do their best to clean up, by killing the sick. And how effective are the Army in zombie/horror films? Not great. Soon their base is overrun and they resolve to simply stopping any townsfolk (sane or not) leaving, then to nuke the site (from orbit, only way to be sure).
Presumably conforming to the confines of the original, and certainly to the tropes of other outbreak horror films, The Crazies still manages to give a streamlined, visceral, vicious, tense experience. It runs to an efficient 90 minutes. There are some wonderfully violent moments. Judy, strapped to a bed, watches while a nut job impales other helpless patients, in a particularly dark moment. It’s gory too, as the camera takes great delight in showing the loonball’s gardening equipment spear right through the bodies.
Becca, Judy’s assistant and one of the sane quartet, dies a wonderful death. Director Breck Eisner does such a good job with this film that he can make a car wash seem scary. The squad have a soapy confrontation with some crazies. As they reverse out of the car wash, a maniac (who’s actually quite smart to pull this off) loops some rubber tubing around Becca’s neck, which quickly tightens to become a noose.
Earlier in the film, Becca’s boyfriend also meets his maker in a pretty grim sequence. She decided to try and save him, and is very close to doing so, when his mum is captured by the Army. He tries to help her, and soon both are gunned down. The scene establishes the growing callousness of the military as well as giving us another dark moment to revel in. We sickos.
Last week I discovered the writing talents of Jason Zinoman, who has written a book about horror films, called Shock Value. Promoting the book, he has written an essay on the problems with modern horror. One point he makes is that horrors are too concerned with backstory now. He mentions Halloween’s Michael Myers as an example of a serial killer who, at least in the first film, gave no explanation for his actions. He just killed, and was all the scarier for doing so. Another film (which I can’t now find mention of, but thought was Night of The Living Dead) has only a brief soundbite from a radio broadcast explain why we’re seeing a zombie outbreak. I’m not as quick to concede as Zinoman that a lack of character work would help a film. But I do wonder if the explanation for the crazyness outbreak helps or hinders The Crazies. There’s a fairly clunky scene where David captures a military fella, who quickly gives up the details on the water supply infection. On a practical level, this explains why the infection happened, why the military were so quickly involved, and why later they try so hard to cover-up the event. Yet it feels a little forced. Maybe that’s just because of the way it’s handled. A character we had never seen before appears. After being threatened with bullety-death he explains to David’s crew and us what we want (but don’t need) to know. And just like that, he’s gone again (to heaven). It felt like a cameo. Is the backstory itself a problem, or just when it’s badly presented? Hmmm, I’ll need to think on this further, once I have a quick drink from this tap *turns crazy with a single sip*
And lastly: I’ve now seen Timothy Olyphant play a bad-ass sheriff in a country town (here), a bad-ass sheriff in the Old West (Deadwood), and a bad-ass lawman in wherever the hell Justified is set (Justified). And so far no one has taught him how to walk like a bad-ass. Talented as he is, he needs someone to get him out of that slightly effeminate stride he has. Someone get him a walking coach. And you, go and watch The Crazies.