Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Crazies (2010) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In 1973, George Romero presented us with a small town world in which something had gone horribly wrong. Neighbour turned on neighbour as a strange dementia swept through the populace, leading to apparently uncontrolled acts of violence. Now Breck Eisner, following in the footsteps of Zack Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead, has reinvented the horror for a modern audience. Like Snyder, he has stripped down the story, shifted the political context and injected an extra shot of adrenaline. Unlike Snyder, he has held on effectively to that sympathy for the devil that made the original work so well, resulting in a film that offers viewers the best of both worlds.
Affable small town sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) seems like the sort of guy who's never had to deal with any real violence in his life, despite his training. This isn't Vietnam-era America - it's an era when, despite the hype about terrorism, danger seems much further from home. So David is distraught when forced to respond violently to an unprecedented gun scare. Meanwhile his pregnant doctor wife, Judy (the ever-reliable Radha Mitchell, who brings much more to the role than your standard screaming Hollywood blonde), is becoming concerned about a patient of hers who doesn't seem quite right in the head. David's suspicions are aroused when he discovers that a plane has crashed in a nearby swamp. Could it be possible that something has contaminated the town's water supply?
Once the real craziness starts, events go much faster here than in Romero's original. In some ways they are less disturbing as a result, but we certainly feel for our heroes, particularly because of that early insight into David's character that makes us aware of his vulnerability, his ordinariness. Soon the military are surrounding the town. Quarantine is imposed. People are being rounded up. Others are running riot, out for blood. Can our heroes, plus David's deputy and Judy's assistant, escape?
The success of this film is in its attention to the sort of small human details that create the boundaries of our day to day worlds, the things we hang onto and use to define normality. Stopping over at the house she knows she's unlikely to see again, Judy takes in the washing. It's the place she had planned to raise her child. Her sense of loss is all-pervasive and adds that more complex element of horror which the ramped-up action had removed.
Romero's interest was always in the boundaries of what makes a person human, and Eisner mirrors this. After all, there are lots of kinds of crazy. When is a person dangerous and when is he simply the sort of quirky oddball you might expect to meet in a small town, perhaps troubled by loneliness or drink? When we become more violent as a result of stress, is that a form of madness? Can a biological weapon make people crazy, or does the real craziness lie in developing such a thing in the first place? As the story goes on, tiny shifts in body language and behaviour make us wonder if our heroes are gradually losing it as the other townsfolk did. They're also defying government orders. Transgressing social rules, they have become politically crazy, with beliefs that the rest of the world may never accept.
Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association produced a brand new draft of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM V. Reading through it, you'd be surprised by how many ways there are to be crazy. Concerns are already being raised over whether, for instance, childhood tantrums are ordinary or pathological. Of course, nobody is arguing about whether or not it could be considered normal to attack your neighbours with a garden fork, but nevertheless there is a shifting middle ground whose uneasiness is explored and, in a strange way, celebrated by Eisner's film. Though formulaic in places, this provides plenty of thrills and scares and, for a remake, it punches well above its weight.Reviewed on: 25 Feb 2010