Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Crazies (2010) Review

The Crazies return in this remake of George A Romero's 1973 thriller as once again psychosis becomes infectious.

The sleepy country town of Ogden Marsh is a quiet place where as far as the locals are concerned , the first day of spring is the opening of the baseball season. The peace is suddenly shattered when Sheriff David Dutton is forced to shoot a well known member of the town who walks on to the playing field brandishing a shotgun. As the town reels from this tragedy more people begin to show symptoms of a form of dementia that results in violent outbursts from it's victims. Before they know it the town is sealed off from the outside world, roads are closed, phones disconnected, television signals stopped and internet service is blocked and quickly the town is invaded by a military force wearing full bio-hazard suits and gas masks.
With a fair degree of brutality and following a shoot first ask questions later policy the military corral the residents into camps separating the infected for study and shipping out the others. With his pregnant wife and some friends Dutton makes a bid to escape the town discovering the nature of the madness and the planned fate of the town and it's populace.

In 1968 George A Romero directed one of horrors most iconic examples, Night of the Living Dead. Following up he then wrote and directed two more films that met with limited success and were even considered flops, There's Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch after which Romero returned to more familiar territory with 1973's The Crazies in which the plague of sorts is a man made, weaponised virus that is unwittingly unleashed on the population of an isolated country town.
The newly released remake directed by Breck Eisner is one I approach with a certain degree of baggage as is always the problem for one who has a high degree of respect for original works and a very high degree of disdain for the desperately disheartening and unimaginative penchant for raping old movies for a quick buck. Anyway, putting these prejudices aside I once again took my seat the sofa like seats at my local multiplex armed with the usual bucket of brown fizzy goodness and enough popcorn to feed a rhino for a week I sat down to experience the latest in a seemingly endless series of remakes.
One thing that is obvious from the beginning is that certain liberties have been taken with the story but this is not always a bad thing and in this case the changes are for the most part minor in terms of the set up.
The lead characters for instance are now cops instead of firemen, a change that allows for deviation from the original story and frankly was a smart move allowing the story to follow the original vision in almost all important respects whilst creating opportunities to set up different situations later. Generally speaking this is how the film works, there is enough of the original story to justify it's title but there is also enough new or changed elements to give some reason for the remake being made. So for once it doesn't feel as pointless an exercise as almost all the current crop of remakes normally do.
The nature of the virus has been retained to some extent but it has to said that the progression of it is rather played up comparatively and there several moments and elements of this film that do have a tendency to rather pander to the gore crowd . Where Romero's original was more interested in the situation and interactions between the protagonists and the military, the remake does take more interest in the action sequences and completely jettisons the military's point of view which does have positive and negative side effects to the movie. On the up side the lack of the armies point of view does add to the sense of chaos, we don't know their motives and only see the harm that they do. The sense of confusion and lack of understanding or information that the characters experience is something we can share in and unlike the original the ambiguity of their actions does not cloud our reaction to them. They are victims fighting against a literally faceless enemy and so we can get behind them much more easily than we could with the more human face presented by the army in the original who were trying to help them. This change is a bit of a double edged sword in that the dehumanisation of the army in kind makes them less dimensional how ever this could also be seen as being a statement in it's own right if you consider the army as a metaphor in this film...Yes, you heard right, there is a degree of depth to this film...
Now this was a surprise to me it had to be said, for once the remake was not merely hijacking the identity of the original but doing what remakes should do, attempting to present an updated, reassessed and more directly relevant telling of the story. Where in Romero's vision the army were almost as much victims as the people they were up against, they were ill prepared, ill equipped, poorly commanded and in a situation that was way over their heads, hampered by bureaucracy and the ethics of the theatre. In Eisner's vision the army are more of a faceless entity (again literally) a force that is deployed to serve the requirements of a unseen command and one that has, with a momentary exception where a young soldier is unmasked, no humanity. It's the brutal application of authority to serve the greater good, or at least a supposed one.
Certain visual elements are evocative of some potent historical events. The trucks that ship out the quarantined populace are rather reminiscent of the trains of the concentration camps of World War 2, the camp is strikingly similar to Guantanimo bay, suffice to say there is a commentary of a political nature coming over here with the themes of invasion and forceful subjugation, the military or government being responsible for the problem in the first place and the plight of the populace being abused by them. Particularly telling, and an important detail, is the moment of the soldier being unmasked where we find a scared young man who's just following orders, his responsibility as an individual is minimised, the machine that is the armed force or indeed those who control it are the ones squarely to blame. This one moment of humanising the 'enemy' in this film seems like a political manoeuvre to deflect the potential criticism of the film accusing the troops in the real world of wrong doing when the criticism is more focused on those controlling them and the military machine it self rather than the individuals that are the troops. Whether this is entirely successful is debatable.
However it's safe to say that there is a fair degree of thought gone into this film regarding what it's trying to say, it's not the empty action flick that the Dawn of the dead remake became. There are moments where it does let itself slide into crowd pleasing which are either quite funny, such as the bone saw chasing the hero across the morgue floor, but which are sometimes a little disappointing given that the overall feel I get from this film is that it actually has something to say, those throwaway moments can feel cheap in comparison to the rest of the film.
Also some of the sequences felt rather predictable. In one scene an infected man starts killing the people restrained in their beds and as he approaches the sheriff's wife it's all too obvious what is going to happen because otherwise the movie would be effectively ended at this point.
Thankfully these moments, including an obligatory but curiously welcome cameo by Lynn Lowry, don't distract too much and are mercifully restricted in number

This said The Crazies is a solid film, exciting, eye catching and thankfully one of those rare remakes that shows due reverence to it's parent whilst offering something new into the bargain. It freshens up the ideas and visuals of the original and although I feel the original has a bit more depth to it in terms of commentary it has to be said that this is a really good interpretation of Romero's movie.

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