THE CRAZIES, a remake of the 1973 George Romero flick of the same name, is a nicely written, well acted, and perfectly directed entry into the jump-and-scare subgenre of horror. Set in the sleepy Iowa town of Owen Marsh, which is the emblematic of the heartland and its all-American values, it takes little time to get to the part where the guy with a gun disrupts a baseball game with a rifle, which, alas, has also become emblematic of life in these United States here in the 21st century.
The guy with the gun is the former town drunk, suspected of having fallen off the wagon when he was taken down by the Dave Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), the sheriff with no choice in the matter. Still he feels guilty and when the blood tests come back showing that the former town drunk had not, in fact, returned to his intoxicant of choice, he feels even worse. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), who is also the town doctor, has her own concerns about a patient brought in by his wife for not being himself. There’s definitely something odd going on, but before she has a chance to get him to a CAT scan in Cedar Rapids, all heck has broken loose right there in Owen Marsh. And this is what is so exemplary about this flick. It moves along at a pace that is brisk, building to a breakneck pace as the mayhem, and the body count, increases. Along the way there’s enough time to get to know the eccentricities of the town folk, including Russell (a perfectly squirrelly Joe Anderson), Dave’s deputy, who marches to a different drummer altogether.
Which brings up the other salient point, viz. to wit., why the premise of a mysterious something in the water or maybe the air driving people slowly nuts works so effectively. When starting out with a few oddballs, and putting everyone else under tremendous stress, just how does our hero and his band determine who’s dangerous and who’s not and does being infected have anything to do with it? Olyphant, channeling Andy of Mayberry at his folksiest clinches the normalcy factor, while Mitchell has the best line in the film. That would be the emphatic “NO” in reply to being asked if she’s okay after narrowly escaping a grisly demise. Her character is tough and smart and resourceful, but near-death by pitchfork has got to rattle anyone and injecting a teeny reality check only makes the rest of the action that much more creepy.
That creepiness includes an impaled hand, a carwash of doom, and something very bad in the nearby bog, the which leads directly to the fiery holocaust that starts the film and leads to the flashback from two days previously when it all began. It’s all handled with pinpoint accuracy of timing, and a knowing way of detailing the action to bring out the maximum in goose bumps. If it veers treacherously near to slasher territory, well, it is a film about carnage of a particularly all-encompassing variety.
THE CRAZIES is wickedly fun and equally wicked when it comes to creating villains out of something worse, and more intractable, than conventional demons, while finding something noble, if not always reliable, in humanity.