Who’s In It: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
The Basics: The serene farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa is the picture of All-American bliss -- until a poisonous toxin makes its way into the town’s water supply, slowly turning its friendly bumpkins into creepy, zombie-like murderers. Trying to make sense of it all is Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), who figures out too late that Ogden Marsh is ground zero for a military operation seeking to stop the infection… by exterminating all of its residents! With the help of his trusty deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson), David breaks his doctor wife (Radha Mitchell) and her nurse friend (Danielle Panabaker) out of quarantine, and the foursome set out to evade crazies and commandos alike by blasting their way to freedom.
What’s The Deal: Taking its plot from the 1973 George A. Romero film of the same name, The Crazies turns its simple premise into a string of heart-pounding thrills and set pieces from the get-go, setting a fine pace that sweeps you up in the chaos and commotion as Ogden Marsh’s neighborly folk start turning into shotgun-toting madmen and women, one homestead at a time. The film wisely sticks with the dashing Timothy Olyphant, whose stoic masculinity recalls the manly heroes of old, creating an ideal hero you can root for; he has the uncanny ability to play the melodrama so straight it practically verges on post-modern. Less compelling is Radha Mitchell as David’s pregnant wife Judy, who exists to spew medical talk, act strangely (suggesting an alternate ending for DVD viewers), and give Olyphant his hero’s motivation. That said, the ratio of quiet character moments to freaky acts of violence is about one-to-one, so you barely have enough time to mull over Mitchell’s pointless character arc before the next batch of crazies attack. Though the pace lags considerably in its second half of its 100-minute runtime as the film devolves into a string of repetitive set pieces, The Crazies makes for a mostly rip-roaring ride of good, pulse-pounding fun.
Best Brit Doing A Midwest Accent In Recent Memory: Joe Anderson, who you may have seen singing and dancing to the Beatles in 2007’s Across the Universe. With an All-American mustache and the twang of a swamp-dwelling middle-American outdoorsman, Anderson is nearly unrecognizable and deserves kudos for his subtle, comic, and slightly dangerous performance as Olyphant’s devoted underling and BFF. The platonic love between them makes for the film’s most interesting relationship, which manages to mostly give you what you least expect.
How Bloody Is It? Suffice to say, you can find me cowering in my seat at most horror flicks. Even so, The Crazies is restrained enough for the squeamish and yet gory enough for horror fans, thanks to director Breck Eisner’s measured sense for how much blood and guts are truly necessary to freak out his audience. To his credit, Eisner (whose best-known previous credit was the Dirk Pitt adventure bomb Sahara) manages to make the scary scenes suspenseful without resorting to jump scares and loud noises, as most modern horror films do. And when he does unleash the gore, it’s terrifying and squishy, but never gratuitous or overdone. That said, he packs his film with dead bodies, gunshot wounds, blades of all shapes and sizes, one pitchfork-wielding high school principal, ominous wheat threshers, psycho hillbillies, a knife-through-the-hand, and the scariest car wash known to man.
For Those That Like Their Horror Socially-Minded: What’s admirable about The Crazies is that you can either watch it as an entertaining series of surprising bursts of violence (Olyphant vs. the possessed buzz saw from Hell), or you can dig deeper. The screenplay by Ray Wright (Pulse, Case 39) and Scott Kosar (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, The Machinist) translates the anti-Vietnam message of Romero’s original film into a parable about the United States’ current military agenda, most apparent in a scene where a remorseful soldier insists he “didn’t sign up to shoot unarmed civilians.” The Crazies also references the internment camps and atom bomb attacks employed by the American military in World War II, suggesting that the natural next step of a heartless government cleaning up a mess of its own creation is the mass extermination of innocent human beings. But if all that’s too heavy for you, you can choose to ignore it and instead read The Crazies as a survival guide to what to do when the zombie outbreak hits. (Hint: don’t drink the tap water. Invest in Evian!)