Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Crazies

Breck Eisner's remake of The Crazies goes for the gut just as the original goes for the brain. The director of the original, George A. Romero, is of course famous for highlighting, even favouring, a socio-political agenda above mere blood and guts and The Crazies is no exception. However, his effort does leave a lot to be desired in both script and acting departments, even if its low budget quality does somehow secure it as a work of creaky 70s significance (and is the clear influence on Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, among others).

Eisner's take sensibly clears up the plotting, sharpens the scares and puts more emphasis on performance, even if the actors are ultimately playing second-fiddle to some expert screw-turning. The basic concept is the same: an ill-defined contagion (more explicitly hinted at here) infects the water supply of a small American town, causing the locals to first act oddly then turn on each other violently. It of course then falls to the Army to cover up the crisis, and this is where the newer version takes its sharpest u-turn.

In the original, the military were positioned centrally as vulnerable authority figures (naive?) However, in our more cynical times, they are now part and parcel of the core threat, ramping up the tension from the off with a birds-eye camera POV of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, designated as a containment zone, all while Johnny Cash sombrely croons 'We'll meet again'. Make no mistake: from both the pessimistic anti-miltary standpoint and the in-vogue use of country music to imply building dread, Eisner's film is a modern one in every sense of the word, starting with the shooting of the town drunk who has invaded a ball game wielding a shotgun.

With this of course comes the inevitable reliance on cat-in-a-cupboard jumps and an overwhelming feel of familiarity. Romero's original, for all its (considerable) flaws, felt as if it were about something: here, Timothy Olyphant's sheriff, Radha Mitchell as his wife and Joe Anderson as his deputy follow a predictable avenue through mechanical set-pieces, although many are brilliantly done. One in particular, involving both a twist on the 'he's behind you' gag and some ensuing carnage with a medical saw, is gloriously staged.

Yet none of it feels new. This is in spite of the best efforts of genre stalwarts Olyphant and Mitchell who effectively delve behind the bland exteriors of their characters, just as Eisner takes relish in doing with the rural settings of Iowa, obliterating the cornfields and dimestores with efficient abandon. For a nerve-jangling time, it serves, although don't expect the grey cells to take part in said jangling.

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