That's right, I saw THE CRAZIES. I was initially taken in by the first teaser trailer, but I thought of it more as a rental and not something I'd see in a theater. However, the respectable reviews, especially for the genre (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the fairly bad reviews for ALICE IN WONDERLAND convinced me into the cineplex for it. I wasn't disappointed, which is so rare these days.
The film hits the ground running without all of the lame exposition. The first shots are of a small town in flames and even though the story jumps back to before the carnage, it doesn't take long for us to see why things go so bad. The lead, played by Timothy Olyphant of "Deadwood" fame, is back in the shoes of a town sheriff. I'm a fan of Olyphant to begin with, so it wasn't exactly an uphill battle, but the character certainly won me over. He is instantly wise to what is going on and knows exactly how much trouble the town is in. One of my favorite scenes in the whole film is when the sheriff and his deputy ask the major to shut off the water and he refuses because the town relies on crops which require water. For some reason, this smelled to me like a mild JAWS reference.
The trouble the town's in isn't just contaminated water that makes people go well, crazy, but the aftermath of such an outbreak. When Sheriff Dutton can't get a phone signal or internet access, he immediately realizes that the government is on its way to handle the situation. The people responsible aim to keep it quiet, which can only mean trouble for the people of the afflicted town. Herein lies the true horror which is also the film's greatest. The helplessly violent townspeople (the crazies of the title) provide some scares and some tense moments, but they aren't nearly as interesting or disturbing as the presence of the U.S. Government. They are the true antagonists of the film, but they remain relatively faceless. There isn't some slick, apathetic suit representing the enemy, they instead leave their mark with black cars and 'copters, blow torches, bombs and charred bodies. The anonymous nature of the government in the film paints them more as an unstoppable force against which there is no escape, which is much more frightening than a crazy who can be brought down with a single bullet.
My complaints about the film are few. There were a lot of moments when Dutton and his wife were separated needlessly. Each incident resulted poorly, with Mrs. Dutton being attacked by lunatics. This plot template was repeated too much and accompanied by the same pan/reveal/shock each time. This horror movie cliche cheapens the film a little.
A few final thoughts:
I've actually never seen the original THE CRAZIES by George Romero, but I will try to soon. For being a horror movie and a remake, Breck Eisner's THE CRAZIES certainly did very well for itself.
The Sheriff's deputy, played by Joe Anderson, definitely put himself on the map with his charismatic performance.
As of this moment, this is the best 2010 film that I've seen, but it's only March.
DAYBREAKERS (The Spierig Brothers) - D+
THE WOLFMAN (Johnston) - C+
SHUTTER ISLAND (Scorsese) - B-
THE CRAZIES (Eisner) - B
Next Up: GHOST WRITER (Polanski)