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The Crazies (2010) ***

February 26, 2010

Written by: Scott Kosar and Ray Wright

Produced by: Michael Aguilar, Rob Cowan, and Dean Georgaris

Directed by: Breck Eisner

Rated R for bloody violence and language

101 min.

U.S. Release Date: February 26, 2010

In 1973, horror-legend George A. Romero delivered a film about a military-controlled biological weapon that gets let loose and spreads a virus all over a small Pennsylvania town.  With this virus comes insanity, homicidal behavior, and ultimately death.  Put the outbreak in a small town in Iowa and give the film some modern upgrades, and you’ve got Breck Eisner’s 2010 rendition of Romero’s “The Crazies”.  The main fear in this film is that the infected do not become dumb and slow, like in most zombie pictures, but rather have the speed and critical thinking of a normal human and… they want to kill everything in arms reach.  In Eisner’s second effort (his debut was “Sahara”), he produces a B-horror film with A-quality suspense, gore and fun.

The population in the farming community of Ogden Marsh, Iowa is barely over a thousand people.  Everyone in the town knows each other and gets along relatively well.  The movie drops you right into the action as the town gathers at the local high school baseball diamond for opening day.  In the middle of the game, the recovering town drunk shows himself onto the field with a shotgun in tow.  Luckily, county sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) are at the game and step out to confront the armed farmer.  While it is clear that the policemen know the farmer personally, the farmer does not return the same treatment; there is clearly something wrong with him.  In an instant, with the entire town watching, the farmer raises his shotgun toward the sheriff, at which point Dutton has no choice but to shoot the man dead in the middle of the outfield.

The town is shaken up after the shooting at the baseball diamond, but has little time to wallow in the grief.  Instances like this are popping up all over town, as people seem to be going insane left and right.  People are killing their families, killing each other, and seem to take on a zombie-like persona that cannot be talked down by anyone.

Sheriff Dutton is on to something, as he follows a report of an airplane crashing out in the woods.  He finds that an airplane has gone down in the river that supplies Ogden Marsh with their drinking water.  The airplane was carrying a military biological weapon called “Trixie”, and is now working its way into the bloodstreams of every person in the small town.  Back at the sheriff’s station, David and Russell attempt to contact higher authorities when they find the phones, Internet connection, and cell phone reception are all out of service.  Ogden Marsh has a real problem on their hands, and they are going to have to deal with it alone.

The film develops into a chase movie of sorts, as Dutton, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and Russell race across town to try and find an escape route (most of the cars are broken down… or on fire!).  There are two main antagonist groups in the second and third acts of this film: the crazies, of course, as well as a military group who have been sent to Ogden Marsh to contain the virus.

Much like my experience with Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out”, I found that Breck Eisner knows what ingredients he has in “The Crazies”.  Eisner is not trying to re-invent the wheel, nor does he attempt to bring anything new to the genre, but he makes lemonade out of lemons with this small town zombie genre film that we’ve all seen before.  “The Crazies” remake manages to create lots of suspense, great scenes of horror, and gets the crowd very jumpy.

After my screening this week there was a brief Q&A session with lead actress Radha Mitchell, who plays Sheriff Dutton’s wife Judy and the town doctor.  For the most part there were the run-of-the-mill questions that you would expect to hear, but a couple of things Mitchell mentioned stood out to me that give good insight into the production of a film like “The Crazies”.  First of all, Breck Eisner loves to shoot many takes of the same shot (sometimes up to 20 takes), so the actors got a lot of freedom to move around and go on and off of script.  Secondly, Eisner used a technique during shooting that I hadn’t heard of before.  Mitchell explained that it is very difficult to seem genuinely frightened or surprised on cue for the camera.  To combat that, Eisner had his crew members shoot off guns (blanks, of course,) at different times while the cameras were rolling to give the actors that authentic look of being startled or jolted.

Overall, like I stated earlier, “The Crazies” knows what it is giving you, and that is a small town zombie-horror genre film and a plot that you’ve pretty much seen before.  However, it takes what it has and maximizes the fun in the form of some good old fashioned gore and suspense.  I would recommend seeing “The Crazies” with a big audience in the theater, as the suspense is only multiplied with the groans you will hear around you.

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