For those who haven’t seen the original 1973 film, THE CRAZIES is about a small town held under brutal government quarantine after a plane carrying an insanity-inducing, water-born virus crashes into the county water supply. That’s it, really. Whereas the original film was a jumbled-up mishmash of an outbreak film that was as much about a few town folk as it was the govies’ inept handling of the situation, this new evolution of THE CRAZIES has abandoned the latter part wholesale. Instead, it focuses entirely on the town Sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), his wife (Radha Mitchell), his deputy (Joe Anderson) and his wife’s co-worker (Danielle Panabaker) as they try to survive the arrival of this colossal government fluster cluck.
Not only do they have to contend with a ‘contain at all costs’ military presence, but the rest of the townies pose an even more lethal threat. The virus, which carries over the original film’s codename of Trixie, has the effect of transforming the infected into hideous killers swarming with varicose veins. They’re not mindless, though. Depending on the stage and severity of incubation, the Crazies can still talk and plot, they’re just crippled by poor impulse control. That last bit makes for an exciting and fresh variant of dread we don’t see often in Hollywood horror: human in thought, zombie in action.
That loss of control is the theme that runs throughout the film thanks to a script from Scott Kosar (THE MACHINST) and Ray Wright (CASE 39) that may just be the best horror remake script to reach production since the ’80s. What makes it so outstanding isn’t how drastic of an improvement it is over Romero’s original, though that obviously doesn’t hurt, but how respectful it is of the audience’s intelligence. There are zero cringe-inducing moments of, “Now why would anyone do that?” going on. Every character has been written from the ground up to propel the storytelling through justifiable action and not clawing exposition. We learn the mysteries of Trixie as the characters uncover them along their way out of Ogden Marsh, and the characters only ever come across the information organically; which is to say never does the script enter the standard issue “here’s where we explain everything” phase.
As strong as the script is, however, it would fall on deaf ears were it not for the cast, all of whom warrant serious investment from the audience. No one ever appears above the material, instead each actor plays their role with the straightest of faces. That may seem an odd compliment as that’s kind of their entire job, but it’s worth mentioning considering how easy it is to imagine other actors not giving their all to ‘just another horror movie remake’. The chemistry between Olyphant and Mitchell makes for such a natural, genuine marital bond that when Olyphant tells a fellow detainee pleading for him to not rock the boat, “How about you don’t ask why I’m going back for my wife and I won’t ask why you aren’t,” you feel the considerable brunt of his determination all the more.
And as much as I am a fan of their work together, my hat is off to Joe Anderson as the scene stealing deputy. I can’t stress enough how impressive Anderson is here. His work in THE RUINS proved he has what it takes to sell emotion no matter the material, while his work in THE CRAZIES proves what he can do when a script keeps him walking and talking past the first reel. He bestows the role of Olyphant’s loyal deputy with a protective edge I can’t quite place my finger on, but suffice it to say, no matter what kind of success this film ends up finding, Anderson possess the rare talent that allows an actor to vanish entirely into a role; a talent that almost always leads to becoming a household name.
But not only does THE CRAZIES have a smart script and an adept cast, it also announces the arrival of a great genre director. I know Breck Eisner has been on the scene for a while now, but as enjoyable-in-a-fluffy-way SAHARA was, I’ve seen nothing from Eisner that screamed he’d be the right match for this material. His “FEAR ITSELF” episode didn’t exactly help expectations for THE CRAZIES either, yet here we are with one of those rare, dime a decade remakes that just hums with quiet efficiency. The plot of THE CRAZIES may be simple in description, but that’s not to say it lacks complexity. In turn, Eisner was able to balance the delicate character work with the requisite quotients of gore and spectacle one expects from a studio horror movie. I’ll not get into specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but there are three big sequences here that are guaranteed to get the audience squirming and buzzing in all the right ways. And that’s not to mention the myriad of smaller gags, thrills, and earned (but not cheap) jump scares that contribute to the consistent aura of doom that hangs throughout.
THE CRAZIES is the kind of horror movie that just sneaks up on people. Even though I’ve sung its praises quite strongly here, I wager you’ll still be surprised by how uniformly good it is. Even as you read these words, I bet you’re thinking, “Nah, it can’t be all dead on, can it?” Well, it can. I’m honestly having a hard time finding anything all that negative to say about the whole production. THE CRAZIES is just fantastic; a kind of mini-wonder that doesn’t come along all that often. Please see this movie, good horror is too rare to neglect at the box office.