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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Crazies (review)

A Sickness Among Us

A man — the town drunk whose recent sobering up hasn’t improved his local reputation — wanders onto the baseball diamond on high-school opening day, carrying a shotgun. The sheriff is forced to confront the man and, when the man raises the gun in a threatening manner, shoots him dead.

A woman brings her husband in to the office of the local GP, asking the doctor to check him out, that he’s just not right. The doctor finds nothing wrong and sends the man home… and that night, he douses his home in gasoline, sets it afire, and burns his wife and young son to death.
It’s an interesting thing that connects that sheriff, David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant: A Perfect Getaway, Stop-Loss), and that doctor, Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell: Henry Poole Is Here, Finding Neverland), and it’s not the fact that they’re married to each other or that they’re expecting their first baby. It’s that they’re united in blaming themselves for something they shouldn’t be blaming themselves for and yet, because they’re decent people, cannot avoid doing: they did their jobs to the best of their abilities, and it didn’t end well. But the cards were stacked against them and their best intentions.

The Crazies doesn’t linger on that guilt, but it underscores at least the beginning of the disaster that unfolds here, in this surprisingly thoughtful — yet not quite thoughtful enough — zombie-virus-apocalypse flick. That the film doesn’t linger longer on the human-drama side of the end of the world is too bad: neither the script, by Scott Kosar (The Amityville Horror, The Machinist) and Ray Wright from George A. Romero’s 1973 original [Amazon U.S./Region 1] [Amazon Canada/Region 1] [Amazon U.K./Region 2], nor Breck Eisner’s (Sahara) direction seems too intent upon diverting too far from what’s expected. So we have zombielike folk staring out at the world with dead eyes and a terrifying sort of quietude before they go all medieval on the asses of those around them. Cue the great escape from the massacre by the as-yet uninfected.

There’s probably not quite enough bloody, gory mayhem to satisfy those who require only that from their zombie-virus-apocalypse flicks, and yet the film doesn’t go quite far enough in the other direction — the metaphorical, social-commentary, aha-it’s-really-all-about-this-other-thing! direction — to satisfy the likes of, you know, me, who doesn’t mind the bloody, gory mayhem as long as it’s attached to something more meaningful beyond that. There’s hint of something more, for sure, in the sensibly paranoid, we-can’t-trust-the-gubmint vibe that’s all over The Crazies… which is a distinct difference, as far as I can tell from not actually having seen it, from Romero’s 1973 movie. We’re in an isolated Iowa farming community here — the “big city” of Cedar Rapids is a bit of a haul away — and so it’s not that difficult, logistically speaking, for armed troops and moonsuit-clad scientists to descend and cordon off the area when the news of the infection gets out to the powers that be. Which probably isn’t a newsflash to them at all, actually: a secret government plane has gone down, and the wreck is leaking something bad, something no one would ever want to admit it was carrying in the first place, and you just know that whoever lost that plane had only been waiting around for stories about people behaving really oddly and really violently to start showing up…

That’s no spoiler: it’s part of the film’s early setup, which gives way to imagery and notions that are much more horrifying that the usual zombie stuff. I’m talking chainlink fences and people in cattle cars and U.S. troops rounding up U.S. citizens — real black-helicopter, FEMA-is-not-your-friend stuff. It’s scarily plausible… but the film doesn’t really confront these ideas in any significant way. It’s almost as if The Crazies was stunned to suddenly discover what hot-button, real-life stuff it had stumbled upon — can there really be any doubt that niceties such as civil liberties would go by the wayside in the event of an outbreak of something so wickedly contagious and destructive? — and pulled back in terror.

In the meta sense, then, The Crazies is sorta fascinating, as an artifact of how mistrustful and cynical our culture has become; as recently as 1995, the thematically similar Outbreak gave us hero doctors trying to medically solve the problem, but here it’s all about simple flight and survival for the sheriff and doctor protagonists, no hero doctors to be found (as there were in Romero’s version). As a satisfying film on its own, however, there’s a slightly disappointing sense of neither-here-nor-thereness about it that makes me wish it had the nerve to take some sort of stand for itself.

MPAA: rated R for bloody violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • tomservo

    Do you have different standards for different kinds of movies? (For the record, I do.) It seems like you set the bar pretty high for a genre film.

  • Kenny

    Movies should stand on their own Tom…

  • Keith

    Haven’t seen the movie, but what I’ve read about it sounds rather similar to the 1984 movie Impulse with Tim Matheson and Meg Tilly. Government substance contaminates a small town causing people to go crazy. Goverment agent works to deal with the situation while a man and his fiance try to escape from the mayhem.

  • tomservo

    On principle, you’re right. But, personally, I don’t view a zombie movie in the same light I would, say, a film by Scorsese or Spielberg. I’m not claiming zombie movies can’t be great films in their own right, I just have different expectations. Not being critical, just curious.

  • MaryAnn

    You will note, perhaps, that I’ve actually ranked this higher than Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

    I also ranked Daybreakers *really* high for the year so far.

    So, yes, I judge films on their own merits. But a film doesn’t get a free pass merely because it’s a “genre” film.

  • tomservo

    Cool. I just heard good word of mouth about this movie. Maybe my expectations are skewed.

  • Andrew

    I thought the military were the heroes of the movie, honestly. Apart from one thing at the end, which I don’t want to spoil so I’ll just say what the doctor finds out at the truck stop, they did literally everything right. (And honestly, that felt tacked on, like oh shit, we made the military the heroes, throw something in.)

    I dunno, maybe it says something not nice about me that I was rooting for the faceless men in gas masks, but, fuck it, the military dude was right. In a situation like that, everything falls to the wayside but the simple math that 1200 is less than 6 billion.

  • JoshDM

    Just got back from seeing it and I fucking enjoyed the hell out of it. Worth seeing.

  • Muzz

    I’m going to SPOIL the original a bit here so be warned:

    One of the original’s triumphs is that, cheesy as it sounds, you couldn’t tell after a certain point who had the disease and who didn’t. It seems a hackneyed idea on the face of it, but it’s probably the best handled thing in the film; how many townsfolk are crazy and how many are reacting to being put under marshall law and the variable personalities in the military (who may or may not have it also)? In that, Romero hit on something in the, dare I say it, American psyche that seems all the more apt today to this foreigner, what with teabaggers et al, conspiracy theories and mistrust more potent than ever (or maybe the internet just makes it seem so).

    Anyway, if you’ve seen both, do you think the new one captures that as well as the first? (I’m going to take it that the general filmmaking technique/gloss is of higher standard)

  • Andrew

    Marshall Law does not appear in this movie, they named the Marshal something else. (It’s martial)

    And yes, it’s an issue. The cast gets cut down to four survivors pretty quickly, but from there the running concern of who’s infected and who’s just going wonky under the stress is a factor.

  • Muzz

    Either I’ve been working too long in high temperatures or I’ve played too much Tekken over the years. Possibly both.

  • Regicide

    Nothing in the movie really blew my mind, but I was interested in everything that was happening.

    You can’t really blame zombies for being popular right now because so many zombie movies and depictions in other mediums have been quite excellent. the remake of Night of the living Dead, the remake of Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Max Brooks’ novel World War Z, and Robert Kirkmans comic “The Walking Dead” that Frank Durabont is adapting for television. I’ll throw this onto the list, but only superficially. Thematically it has more to do with the premise of “The Happening.”

    And though I like a good zombie apocalypse, Romero’s last few films feel like imitations of the earlier stuff he made that really worked. He should make another Creepshow instead.

    I’d actually never seen the original version of this before, but I think I’ll seek it out now.

  • In the meta sense, then, The Crazies is sorta fascinating, as an artifact of how mistrustful and cynical our culture has become; as recently as 1995, the thematically similar Outbreak gave us hero doctors trying to medically solve the problem, but here it’s all about simple flight and survival for the sheriff and doctor protagonists, no hero doctors to be found (as there were in Romero’s version).

    You really need to see the original, MaryAnn. You’re making it sound like a thinly disguised Capra film and without giving away much, it’s safe to say that that isn’t quite an accurate description…

    Then again it was made at a time when the Vietnam War, the Kent State shooting and a certain nerve gas incident in Utah–the same incident that inspired a key subplot in Close Encounters of the Third Kind–were still fresh in the public’s mind. So it always amazes me when critics speak of the early 1970s as if it were some time of lost innocence. If you were a child, it probably seemed that way, but if you were an adult, it was definitely much different.

  • Chris

    I came out of the theater very underwhelmed. I wouldn’t even recommend waiting for the DVD. The high approval rating this somehow has on RottenTomatoes is what is “crazy” here.

    The whole movie was horribly clichéd and full of those annoying startle scares. The acting is mediocre – Tim Olyphant and Rhada Mitchell are especially wooden, and the supporting cast is full of hams.

    I didn’t think I would say it, but the 1973 version, flawed as it is, is the superior film. It has adequate writing, decent actors, and [best of all] clear motives. The original wants to show chiefly that the military/politicians are a bunch of bumbling idiots and the people can be their own worst enemy – and it plays this well enough. This movie, on the other hand, has a difficult time trying to take a firm stance on anything. If you hint at the military being evil, why then do you portray them quickly and efficiently containing the plague?! Our heroes then become the morons screwing things up with their selfish schemes (which isn’t the intention at all).

    It spreads itself too thinly, trying to show every aspect of the quarantine at the same time. We end up learning next to nothing about the plague, the town, the townspeople, the military, or even the lead characters. I was indifferent towards everything that was happening onscreen – and I would’ve nodded off if I wasn’t pestered every two minutes by some extremely loud ‘scary’ noise.

    I had a MAJOR facepalm moment in the movie’s finale.

    They inadvertently pay homage to the “nuke the fridge” scene of Indiana Jones 4. Olyphant and Mitchell survive a nuclear blast while cruising down the road in a big rig. Beautiful.

  • JoshDM

    You can get a blast that size without going nuclear.

  • MaryAnn

    So it always amazes me when critics speak of the early 1970s as if it were some time of lost innocence. If you were a child, it probably seemed that way, but if you were an adult, it was definitely much different.

    I don’t think the 1970s were a time of innocence, and I haven’t seen the original. I do think that, in general, the tenor of the “mistrust authority” theme is different today than it was then. *Close Encounters,* for instance, did have the “good” scientist played by Francois Truffaut as a fairly major character in the film. I don’t know that we’d see a character like that in a film like that today. I could be wrong — I should look into this more.

  • Keith

    I watched the original the other day. May try to catch the new one in the theater. From MaryAnn description, it sounds like they fairly faithful to the original in spirit. “Thoughtful, but not thoughtful enough” about covers it. Most of the time is spent jumping back and forth between the military response (their methods and errors) and the main characters trying to survive and escape the situation, but not much about the significance of the issues involved. The only real point seemed to be the government is more competent at creating messy situations than cleaning them up.

    The original also seemed to end rather abruptly without any real resolution to the larger story. From the spoiler comment above, it sounds like the new one has more of an ending to it.

  • Chris

    Keith, you’re being way too optimistic about the remake. This movie is even less thoughtful than the original. I like to call it Fratboy Didacticism. Whatever the film may think it’s conveying, it does it in such and inept fashion that it’s almost a sad meta-commentary on the entertainment industry (or maybe I just hate this movie too much).

  • Keith

    Ok, seen them both now. I liked the new version better than the original. The new version is more intimate and mainly follows the main characters from the town. Everything we learn, we learn along with them. Of course they do this to ratchet up the fear level, as dread of the unknown is the most powerful sort of fear.

    In the original, it was more of a third person perspective where we see what the people in Washington are thinking, the military leaders, the scientists working on the problem, as well as the main characters trying to escape. The dating of the material made it hard to get very into this version.

    Both are pretty similar versions of the same story, but told through different styles of narrative. Both hint at containment being a failure. The new version is more upbeat with the main character fairing considerably better than in the original. Neither one tried to analyze itself very strongly. I think the makers were really just trying to entertain the audience and many of us here are putting way too much thought into it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they laughed at us for being the geeks we are if they saw this thread.

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