Directed by: Breck Eisner || Produced by: Michael Aguilar, Dean Georgaris, Rob Cowan
Screenplay by: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright || Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
Music by: Mark Isham || Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre || Edited by: Billy Fox || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 101 minutes
One of the earliest film analysis essays I wrote on this site was a top-ten list of my picks for the best, or at least most effective film reboots, remakes, and “re-imaginings” in Hollywood. Not long after I wrote that blog post, I regretted not including director Breck Eisner and writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright’s The Crazies somewhere on that list. I have rewritten/edited that essay several times after first posting it, but was never comfortable removing any of the current ten titles for The Crazies despite how the latter is as good as any of the former. A “top eleven” list just doesn’t have the same ring to it as a “top ten” countdown.
A remake of the 1973 George A. Romero film of the same name, this 2010 Crazies released in the heart of the modern wave of Hollywood revisiting its older properties for a quick buck, but is distinct from numerous “soft reboot” titles (e.g. Tron Legacy , The Thing , The Force Awakens , Halloween ) whereby a remake is disguised as a legacy sequel, prequel, or spinoff. This new Crazies stands apart from its Romero counterpart as a distinctly modern, violent, and efficient horror picture that can be enjoyed with zero knowledge or awareness of Romero’s overrated filmography.
The only throwback quality to The Crazies (2010) is its small-town setting and rural backdrop, which features lead Timothy Olyphant, not too far removed from his Deadwood (2003-2006; 2019) heydays at HBO, as yet another shrewd, rugged sheriff who takes matters into his hands out of sheer necessity. The rest of the cast (e.g. Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson) are serviceable horror archetypes that populate this relatable, small-town Iowa setting, which feels universal enough to make the story’s creepy inciting incident that much more horrifying: A secret government aircraft carrying a weaponized biological agent crash-lands into the local reservoir unbeknownst to the townsfolk, and infects their water supply. Soon thereafter, the locals begin exhibiting… abnormal behavior.
This simple high-concept premise is executed through Kosar and Wright’s patient yet well edited screenplay, which conforms to a traditional three-act structure and ramps tension and narrative stakes as our main characters uncover the plot’s unsettling mystery. At 101 minutes, The Crazies achieves a near perfect pace that partitions quick yet memorable character moments throughout action-packed, terrifying 2nd and 3rd-act monster encounters, the contexts of which are well established in the calmer opening act. Numerous creative sequences include a deranged, infected high-school principal impaling helpless victims strapped to stretchers with a pitchfork in a high-school field hospital, cryptic, infected employees assaulting our heroes in a carwash inside a vehicle, and a nail-biter of a finale where Mitchell and Olyphant battle multiple homicidal infected rednecks inside a highway truck station.
All the aforementioned set-pieces are well realized via director Eisner and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. Alexandre has had an extensive career shooting various horror and thriller films for prolific French filmmaker, Alexandre Aja (e.g. High Tension , The Hills Have Eyes , Crawl , Oxygen ), as well as David F. Sandberg (e.g. Annabelle: Creation , Shazam! ), while Eisner’s last feature was 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter, starring Vin Diesel. Both do a great job with The Crazies, shooting a diverse collection of day and nighttime set-pieces that maximize narrative tension and take advantage of various props, character ticks, and set-design features that inform the greater story. Even after the last infected antagonist is dispatched, Eisner and Alexandre shoot a terrific chase sequence and epilogue I did not expect that ends their movie on a literal bang.
In general, however, The Crazies is refreshing for what it doesn’t do as much as for what it does. Nowhere in the film do characters, major or minor, make dumb or unrelatable decisions out of plot convenience or to manufacture cheap drama; the film is violent and gory, yes, but never resorts to gratuitous bloodshed for the sake of shock-value. By the same token, the movie doesn’t shy away from casual brutality toward otherwise sympathetic characters, nor are figures often lionized in other popular films (e.g. the US military) glorified for lazy audience approval. The Crazies is committed to its vision of an idyllic Midwestern community transformed into a veritable dystopian hell by government mismanagement, biological contagion, and the worst of human nature, so the typical Hollywood inclination to pander to this audience or that, to censor this story beat or that character trait, has no room to fit here.
I don’t mean to portray Breck Eisner’s The Crazies as a novel, groundbreaking titan of purebred horror cinema — needless to say, those who shudder at the thought of small-town folk murdering each other from symptoms of a government engineered disease should give the film a wide berth — but it is as reliable a contemporary genre film as you can find. It’s built atop a solid fucking script that outlines relatable, archetypal characters, a patient yet efficient story arc, and a modernized adaptation of George A. Romero’s nihilistic premise. Eisner and director of photography, Maxim Alexandre, however, lighten that dark, oppressive nihilism ever so slightly with their memorable portrayal of leads Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell triumphing(?) over endless waves of rural homicide and military cruelty.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: One of the few straightforward remakes of an older horror film that works, in part perhaps because of its source material’s mixed cult status (Romero’s original is not considered a classic like Night of the Living Dead  and Dawn of the Dead ), 2010’s Crazies updates all aspects of 1970s film paranoia in the best ways possible. Great camerawork, location-photography, pacing, and action scenes give new life to an old idea, the way all great remakes should.
— However… like most purebred genre pictures, The Crazies‘ appeal is built for certain audiences rather than general ones, and as such, has limited prospects beyond fans of undead fiction or violent, visceral horror.
? Don’t ask me why I can’t leave my wife and I won’t ask why you can.
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