Yep, there is something in the water
“IT was only okay, wasn’t it?”
That was one woman’s verdict on the way out of ‘The Crazies’, Breck Eisner’s take on George A Romero’s 1973 horror. But after a month with more cinematic misses than hits, this viewer was quite happy to settle for ‘only okay’.
Besides, there are aspects of the movie that are better than okay. The opening half hour is particularly strong, as a number of previously upstanding citizens of a small American town go barmy. One man arrives at a baseball game with a loaded gun. Another sets fire to his house having locked his wife and child inside.
These good guys gone bad both had a wild look, spotted by Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), who has to deal with the rising body count. It gradually emerges that that’s not all they have in common. A plane has crashed into a nearby river, and its lethal cargo has begun leaking into the water supply, turning the townspeople into looneys with a taste for blood.
At first, it appears we’re in ‘High Noon’ territory – the sheriff has to stay but wants his doctor wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), to flee. Perhaps not being familiar enough with Aslan to sing ‘How can I protect you in this crazies world?’, he tells her: “If it turns out they need penicillin, I’ll call ya!”
But she won’t leave and, pretty soon, the town is swarming with soldiers. Efforts to separate the healthy from the infected quickly give way to a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ policy. The original Romero effort hit screens at the height of anti-war protests over Vietnam, when distrust of authority had rocketed and the US government was accused of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
To those of us too young to remember those days, this re-make has echoes – however inappropriate – of ‘The Simpsons’ movie, when President Arnold Schwarazenegger chose to enclose Springfield within a glass dome to keep its pollution contained.
‘The Crazies’ is not as gripping once David, Judy, the sheriff’s deputy and another woman try to find a way around the military cordon. That said, the characters are sufficiently well sketched, and the situation dynamic enough, that there’s still plenty to be interested in.
Sound is well used throughout – a pitchfork is dragged along the ground (an image that has featured in promotional posters), footsteps pound up stairs, a music box is switched on in a quiet house. The mixture of light and dark indoors also works effectively, and the fact that characters can go from healthy to vengeful adds a nice layer of menace and uncertainty to proceedings. The music which bookends the opening and closing stages – ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ – will also put a smile on many faces.
The scares follow the usual trend of horror movies, but are well spaced out. True, we’ve seen variations on this theme many times before – there is a lot of running and hiding. But for a genre that often produces terrible efforts, ‘The Crazies’ is above average.
Olyphant first came to many people’s notice playing the expressionless and emotionally dead Agent 47 in the horrendous ‘Hitman’. So it’s something of a pleasant surprise that we actually care what happens to his likeable sheriff and the other main characters who attempt to break out of army-imposed isolation.
If he wasn’t starring in ‘Hitman 2’ in the not too distant future, I’d risk saying that Olyphant’s next few films could be worth watching. I’ll hold fire on that for now, but this one is worth checking out.
Rating 3 out of 5