There are more than a couple highly effective suspense scenes in BRECK EISNER’s remake of GEORGE ROMERO’s 1973 cult film THE CRAZIES (kudos to EISNER for milking a car wash clash for everything it’s worth.). Rather than spewing out the usual over bloated, trying too hard, twelve-inch dance mix of its source material, 2010’s THE CRAZIES keeps it eye upon characterization and delivers an astute, mid-tempo horror excursion that’s easy to find yourself wrapped up in. It may not blow you out of the back of theater, but frankly I prefer my apocalypses in a teacup.
First thing’s first, make sure you don’t confuse THE CRAZIES with that elder ROMERO redo, 2005’s DAWN OF THE DEAD; it may be wearing some of that sibling’s hand me downs (for example, a perfect fit JOHNNY CASH opening track), but it’s got a disposition all its own. THE CRAZIES never quite hits the same delicious zeniths of that barn burner but it never quite hits the same head scratching lows either (I guess I’ll never get over the scene in DAWN, where the uninfected mall bound group allows an obviously ready to turn zombie woman in a wheel barrow into their ranks!) Really, the titular “Crazies,” once friends and neighbors who’ve now lost all rationality, have more in common with alien invasion pod people than the supernatural undead. On the other hand, these guys certainly mean to do more than just stare at you blankly. Well, that suits me fine, loss of identity is yesterday’s concern; loss of morality is so very today.
There is a beautiful eye of the storm moment mid way through the movie where committed to order town sheriff David Dutton (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT) and committed to heal town doctor Judy Dutton (RADHA marry me MITCHELL) return to their home for a brief period after their world has been turned upside down. Judy begins absent-mindedly taking down the laundry she had put out to dry earlier that day and then catches the pointlessness of her actions. The peaceful life that the Duttons had planned for the child they are soon expecting is now an impossibility. The insanity of the outside world, the dehumanizing cattle prodding military, the vicious, violence mongering good ol’ boys, the mentally unstable school faculty et al. cannot be kept off the lawn. The American small town and its virtues are now officially dead and every picket fence is pushing up daisies, insanity reigns. I have to wonder how many expecting parents in real life have felt essentially the same thing.
“Don’t ask me why I can’t leave without my wife and I won’t ask you why you can.” Regardless of the impression you might get from the heavy-handed promotion, this is some pretty thoughtful stuff. Sure the military are sort of ill represented but that’s kind of the point. I caught THE CRAZIES on several occasions avoiding the easy route to its destination. When Dutton’s deputy Russell (JOE ANDERSON) begins to show signs of mental deterioration, rather than paint a soulless monster, we get a glimpse of his realization that he won’t be seeing the closing credits. “I’m not right am I?,” he asks. When his fears are confirmed he then pleads ,“Can I walk with you just a little more?”( or something to that effect.) Hey, there’s something in your Unk’s eyes,…gimme a sec.
Perhaps THE CRAZIES is the perfect bookend to the aforementioned DAWN OF THE DEAD. Whereas that film inadvertently expressed our fears of the world turning to chaos, THE CRAZIES wonders what’s left in the post chaos world. (Duck and cover SPOILER explosion!) One casualty is clear and that is the simple life. We are left with the image of our heroes (Judy is even clad in an I heart Iowa sweater) being forced toward a city skyline after their beloved town and dream future are literally bombed off the face of the earth. No, you can’t keep the madness out kids, even in Mayberry they’re “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”