It is getting more and more difficult for filmmakers to breathe new life into the tired zombie genre as of late. The most successful zombie movies in recent memory are infused with humor (Zombieland) or introduce a new spin on the classic tale (Pontypool.) The Crazies is a cool little horror film that works because its zombies are not quite typical zombies, which I found more believable and thus more scary than a true zombie movie.
Time for me to fess up. I haven’t seen George Romero’s 1973 film that was the original source material for this film, so this was all a new concept to me.
The Crazies opens with a nifty juxtaposition of small town tranquility and calm (the whole town is watching a local baseball game) with modern day horrors, as a man pointedly walks across the baseball field with a shotgun. He doesn’t look like a zombie.
Instead, he appears to be channeling Michael Douglas’ character from Falling Down. As the horrified crowd looks on, the local sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) shoots the man before he can harm anyone.
At first David suspects that the man has fallen off the wagon, but when a toxicology report shows that the man didn’t have any alcohol in his system, David suspects something more sinister is behind the man’s sudden and drastic personality transformation. David enlists his physician wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) to help find out what is really going on as more and more townspeople go “crazy.”
Quickly the entire town is brought to its knees by government types who are trying to contain the “infection” by any means necessary, including complete eradication of the entire town’s population. The beauty of The Crazies is that it taps into anti-government/conspiracy theory paranoia without going overboard. Here the people who come to the rescue are just as scary as the monsters lurking in the shadows.
Director Breck Eisner (Sahara) does a nice job of ratcheting up the dread and tension in ordinary settings. Radha Mitchell and Timothy Olyphant are well cast as the feisty married couple who has to go on the run to avoid getting killed with the rest of the townsfolk.
Olyphant, in particular, seems poised for breakout stardom. He was great in television’s Damages and in A Perfect Getaway. Plus, is anyone besides me giddy over the teasers for the upcoming FX series Justified?
The Crazies has the good fortune of being particularly prescient considering the current political climate. It is a welcome addition to the so-far anemic horror slate this year.