The Crazies is an updated remake of the original 1973 film by George A. Romero (he of the infinite Living Dead movies). Director Breck Eisner and writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright have some good ideas about how to modernize the film by shifting the emphasis almost entirely to the townspeople affected/infected, but don't entirely succeed at making something clever or fun to watch. Maybe if you've never seen a horror or thriller film before, you could appreciate what's been put on the screen. Otherwise, it will all feel much too familiar.
It's never a good sign when you know the fates of each character as you meet them, but that's what happened as I settled in to watch this story of The Crazies unfold. That comes from someone who has never seen the original. But I was hopeful that Eisner would turn things on their head, or at least give us some unexpected twists along the way. Alas, the movie takes the easy route almost every time.
A group of survivors get picked off one by one...check. At least one is assumed to be infected, but isn't ...check. The government/military response is overly zealous but ultimately incompetent...check. The lead and his lady love separate and she becomes the target of an attack...check. The lead and his lady love survive through the tragic sacrifice of a close friend...check. A "shock" ending reveals the horror isn't over yet...check.
I will give credit to Eisner for assembling a cast of genuinely talented actors. Timothy Olyphant (FX’s Justified) and Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) as his wife, Dr. Judy Dutton, are both enjoyable, and Eisner chose well in switching these lead roles to the town's Sheriff and doctor from the original. Joe Anderson (Across the Universe) is also very effective as the Sheriff’s loyal deputy, perfectly embodying that small-town charm.
The foundation was certainly in place here for something special, but instead Eisner slips into a tired formula seen countless times over the years. The subtle changes to Romero's script and direction should have netted a great horror film. Sticking exclusively with the local perspective, making the military a faceless presence, was a great idea, because it keeps the audience as frightened, confused, and frustrated as the townspeople. The personal attacks we get from townspeople who have gone crazy are handled well enough, but we don't spend enough time connecting with them in the beginning for the fact that these are neighbors and friends to impact us as much as it does the characters. In fact, the film doesn't go nearly far enough in showing us the "crazies" at all.
The cast's walk through town should be far more dangerous, so the audience can see just how horrible this situation could become should it get out of control. Instead, we mostly get a few residents here and there, and the over-the-top antics of "The Hunters," that trio of backwoods hicks Hollywood loves to sprinkle into Midwest-set films. The problem is, they were dangerous to begin with, so the infection doesn't make them that much more of a threat. Showing us sweet old ladies becoming dangerous in a very real way would have been far more affective. The best scenes of infection are with the coroner, because the film takes an extra beat to show us the horrors these infected people are capable of.
Even when the expected turning of someone we’ve grown close to throughout the film finally happens, it still comes across as a hollow moment. The emotional impact is weakened because the transformation doesn’t hold nearly the same level of fear and danger as the “crazies” we’ve already seen throughout the film.
Because of the failure to effectively scare the bejeezus out of us with “crazies” running rampant, the inevitable twist ending also loses nearly all of its power as well. If we'd seen Main Street Ogden Marsh, where these events transpire, as a hellhole of real horror rather than the empty aftermath of violence, we would have a better sense of the danger posed to the entire world. Instead of shock and horror, we yawn at the expected turn of events and go on with our day. It's frustrating that this could have been so much better, but the Hollywood machine instead churned out yet another clichéd, predictable horror flick.
There are plenty of extras for fans of horror to get excited about, including "Make-Up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action" and "Visual Effects in Motion." The first is an exploration into the care that went into the make-up used on the townspeople as they become more and more crazy. I was able to appreciate the thought that went into it, as well as the application of creating unique looks.
The latter short is much simpler, running through the steps the visual effects team used in going from the shot film to the scenes we saw on the screen. Enthusiasts of the craft will find it interesting to see daytime shots transformed into night shots, as well as some of the more complicated effects.
"Behind the Scenes with Director Breck Eisner" and "Paranormal Pandemics" feature the cast and crew talking about how special and great the movie is, which is laughable considering how trite the final product is.
"The George A. Romero Template" talks a little about Romero's work in general before focusing more exclusively on his original vision for The Crazies (1973). Fans of Romero might appreciate the enthusiasm, but it would have been nice to delve a little deeper into the differences between the original film and this remake, and why those decisions were made.
"The Crazies Motion Comic" is a huge disappointment in execution. Adapted from the first two print comics, the techs got a little too excited with the motion, having every single bit of imagery wobble and stretch constantly. It's distracting and takes away from the otherwise intriguing backstories to some of the characters. These were the stories I was looking for in the film, and they would have given us a little more of an emotional impact as people became sick.
Eisner offers commentary over the movie, and the DVD-ROM includes both storyboards and the full production script, giving this DVD more value for the buck than most other films. If only the film itself were stronger.