2010, US, Directed by Breck Eisner
Colour, Running Time: 101 minutes
Review Source: Cinema screening; Image: 2.35:1, Super 35
It’s certainly easy to become cynical when perusing what’s worth expiring some time with at the cinema these days - out of the three films I’ve seen at the cinema this year two have been remakes, and just about everybody who’s into movies seems to be bored to death with the whole remake bandwagon. It’s also easy to become cynical about one of the iconic horror directors to have shaped the genre quite a few of us still love: George Romero. Not only does he seem unable to direct anything worth a rotting toenail anymore, but anything that he did direct that was any good seems to have been remade by someone else, generally with fine results (conveniently disregarding the Day of the Dead wastrel as well as the recent ‘3D’ attempt to update Night…) - Dawn of the Dead was very impressive, Night of the Living Dead (1990) wasn’t actually a bad movie, in fact quite enjoyable (directed by Tom Savini, it seems to have been all but forgotten about), and now there is The Crazies, which surprised me by not only providing a suitably good time, but actually managing to drag me to the edge of my proverbial seat at several points. So this suggests that people remaking Romero movies are mostly doing a better job than he is directing his own films nowadays…
Romero’s version of The Crazies was a very low budget early seventies affair, shot on 16mm with not too much in way of resources to draw upon (compared to ‘big‘ movies). It stubbornly refused to be held back by these limitations, however, and proved to be a kinetic, exciting, smartly scripted and acted offering that also presented a frightening concept as a bonus: a military viral weapon is accidentally unleashed into the water system of a small town, forcing them to cordon off the perimeter as its denizens fall prey to a disease that causes death or homicidal insanity. The aggressive tactics of the army to contain the outbreak were pretty scary, and Romero displayed the raw talent for presenting spiralling chaos in the wake of an uncontrollable nightmare that would take full blossom in the delectable Dawn of the Dead a few years later. The main idea in the remake is the same, but this one spends a lot less time focussing on militaristic interaction and debating of moral dilemmas (one of the original’s strengths), and more time trailing a small group of people attempting to survive a microcosmic apocalypse. In this sense it’s actually closer in feel to Dawn…, along with several other films I love for similar reasons, for example Zombie Creeping Flesh and Nightmare City. There is also some contemporary influence from 28 Weeks Later in the containment camps set up by the army. As the protagonists are pulled into the nightmare they eventually manage to escape to the road in a desperate attempt to head for the next town. Along the way there are several crossings with either the army or the wandering mad (now, unsurprisingly in the wake of what‘s a bit too popular these days, actually resembling running corpses more so than just crazy people). There are some clichés that bring things down a notch, for example the now extremely predictable scenario whereby an assailant is about to knock off one of the main characters when suddenly one of the heroes or heroines blows away the threat from behind - almost unforgivably this happens not once but twice. In addition I felt there are issues with the nature of the biologically induced insanity adopted for the ’crazies’ themselves - there are points when I feel it’s a little too contrived in its attempt to create homicidal shock moments. But on the whole there are enough positive factors to fully outweigh any problems.
The film is very adeptly acted out and the set pieces are for the most part exceptionally well handled by the director of Sahara. One area of note here is the prolonged car wash sequence, which has its funny moments, but mostly is very damn frightening and with a great payoff too. Radha Mitchell, in ‘danger’ of getting herself a Scream Queen tag with the likes of Pitch Black, Silent Hill, Rogue and this movie under her belt, is as always a welcome and attractive presence throughout, but equally welcome is her character’s husband and survival partner Timothy Olyphant, who seems really suited to this role and actually a likeable protagonist (too many main characters nowadays just seem to irritate the viewer into wishing them serious harm - surely not intentional!?). I also noted that the film had a fantastic appearance, combining naturalistic colours with a brightness that gave it an overall vibrancy. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre has previously also bestowed the likes of the Hills Have Eyes (remake!) and Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance) with very bold looks. The score itself is persistently brooding with periodic arousal into a bouncier, more dynamic rhythm when onscreen action requires it - again I think that this works very much in the film’s favour. Finally, I rather liked the story’s closing few minutes too - a good ending in my opinion is something that makes or breaks the viewer’s desire to revisit a film, and this remake is something I’d consider buying on Blu-ray when it arrives.
So, after departing the cinema having enjoyed 90% or more of what I’d witnessed it momentarily crossed my mind that if remakes can at least occasionally result in a gratifying couple of hours then perhaps the phenomenon isn’t such a terrible curse?