From an outside perspective, two counts of unoriginality can be charged to “The Crazies.” One: it’s a remake of a George Romero film from the ’70s; Two: it adds another quarantined disease zombie movie to the pile that proliferated this past decade. Yet Breck Eisner’s version does so many little things right. He keeps “The Crazies” suspenseful and elicits our sympathies for the main characters. Next to “28 Days Later,” and its sequel as well as “I Am Legend,” no zombie disease flick of late has done it better.
“The Crazies” does offer some unique trappings to the genre. The story takes place in the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh where the Sheriff Dave Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) has had a few cases of people going catatonic and then becoming violent. He soon discovers that a plane has crash-landed in the marsh in a location that feeds into the town’s water supply. But before he can do anything about it, the military invades Ogden Marsh and begins to quarantine the local citizens and killing anyone who doesn’t comply.
So in addition to fighting off unstably violent diseased people, Dutten must avoid contact with the military for fear of being killed or separated from his pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell). Mitchell and Olyphant succeed as likable leads for a horror film. Olyphant (“Live Free or Die Hard”) performs better in the take-charge sheriff role and Mitchell, since her starring role in sci-fi/horror flick “Pitch Black,” has always proved she has more of a knack for the frightened protagonist/heroine than the average actress.
Although not abundantly scary, Eisner keeps the film suspenseful and ominous with patience and strong shot composition. Most noticeably, his “crazies” don’t act like most zombies; they’re quiet and almost methodical and you can tell that they’re succumbing to some uncontrollable impulse. It makes you take them much more seriously as an audience rather than simply enjoy the gory fun. The “scary” scenes also flow naturally and keep you guessing rather than constantly delaying an inevitable “boo!” moment.
When the truth about the government plane and the substance on board gets out, the originality of the “Crazies” story comes through. Suddenly Dave and Judy are out there fighting to survive against the man as much as some diseased lunatics. The film doesn’t resonate much more beyond that, but unlike much of this sub-genre, nothing poor can be said about the filmmaking.
Directed by Breck Eisner
Written by Scott Kosar, Ray Wright and George A. Romero (1973 film)
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson