Friday, September 10, 2010

Crazy Town

I'm not a big horror movie fan.

Just putting that out there, letting you all know where I stand. For me, most horror is low-budget, poorly directed, and in it more for the gore factor rather than being a smart film that actually makes the audience think. If you're George Romero, you could make a non-mainstream, thought provoking horror film with your eyes closed, but most horror directors seem to not care so much about putting out quality product. Of course, there are exceptions, but for every Evil Dead or Dawn of the Dead are seemingly hundreds of titles similar to Open Graves. Now, this doesn't mean I write off horror as an inferior genre, but it usually means I don't often have a good first impression of horror films due out.

Maybe something's changed in me, but when I first saw the trailer for The Crazies, a remake of the original Romero film by director Breck Eisner, I was very excited. Here was a film that, from it's trailer, seemed to be smart, scary and most importantly sincere, which is a difficult trick to pull off when you're putting your characters in situations in which most of us may never find ourselves. My biggest concern was whether or not this film could live up to the amazing trailer, but I was confident enough to grab a rental and give the movie my time.

"And that's why you shouldn't play with matches."
The Crazies drops us in the small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. Ogden Marsh is one of those idyllic small towns where (sing it with me here) everybody knows you're naaaaame...


Let's move on.

Anyway, this town is also the kind of place where high school baseball is the talk of the town, and that's where all of Ogden Marsh, including the young local sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), is when everything starts to go down the toilet. One of the locals gets it in his head that it's a good idea to carry a shotgun onto the field of play, and after a tense standoff, David is forced to shoot the man dead. But while your local newspaper might report that story like it's the end, this only proves to be the beginning of a small town's descent into madness, sickness, and murder.

It's a zombie! No, wait, it's not?? Awwwwww.....
One of the first things you notice about this film is how well the story is paced. There's no rush to force haphazard plot points onto you, as the movie calmly introduces you to characters, slowly feeding the story in a reasonable manner as to facilitate the audience's understanding. And these characters are all well thought-out people, not just soundbites or cliches. You learn to care about them, and when they get sick and change, that feeling sticks with you. This is immensely helped by the strong acting of not only the key performers, but many of the supporting cast. The only thing I've seen Olyphant was his small role in Scream 2, so that pretty much meant he was an unknown quantity for me. So how was I to know he'd be absolutely wonderful as the mild-mannered sheriff who is determined to lead he and his wife out of the madness that has consumed their town? Also strong is Radha Mitchell in what might be one of her better performances as David's wife and the town doctor who witnesses some of the early symptoms of the illness before it gets completely out of control. But the best performance of the cast might be British actor Joe Anderson as the Sheriff's deputy, who may or may not be infected over the course of the film. He's the kind of everyman you want to root for, even when it begins to become obvious that he's turning. And these are the main roles, not the great small roles by Brett Rickaby, Larry Cedar and Mike Hickman as characters who completely get into their performances in this sick community.

I don't think that new sitter is going to work out.
The movie is truly scary, blending just the right type of atmosphere with proper pacing and believable characters and making you believe that any small town could be THIS CLOSE to this actually happening. However, it's not really anything new. While it's not truly a zombie film, it's close enough, with the sick barely keeping enough coherence to make any of them unique. Sure, they don't eat people (at least that we see), but they still have some insatable urge to kill, and act accordingly. What's worse is that there isn't anything here that hasn't been covered in any previous similar movie. It's a classic "weapons-grade chemical gets into small-town water supply and chaos ensues" plotline, with only superior performances and higher production values making it better than most titles. though the film thankfully keeps the perspective on the town's few survivors and keeps out of the affairs of the military who try to contain the sickness and fail miserably. The insular storytelling works, but only barely makes up for the fact that there are no new ideas to make this title truly unique. This is hardly surprising with Eisner at the helm. Michael's son is hardly one to work with original material, with most of his existing work and future projects either being remakes or adaptations. This isn't to say he's not a good director, simply one in need of an original thought in his head, rather than one who can follow directions.

"So, do you want full service today, or just the death?"
The Crazies is a scary, smart, exciting and jaw-dropping film that has raised the bar for contemporary horror films. However, it's also derivitive, unoriginal and a little too formulaic in it's attempt to be a true modern classic like the aforementioned Evil Dead of Dawn of the Dead. With strong performances, superb effects and breathtaking story, it's good enough to be good, and that's good enough to worm itself into the year's top ten, at least for the time being. It's the new #9. Now you should be heading down to wherever you rent your films to check it out.


Sam said...

Are to you telling me ... I can hardly make myself THINK it ... that you've NEVER SEEN 'Deadwood'? Is that ... is that what you're trying to say?

Gianni said...

I was just discussing last night with my friend The Opinioness that Deadwood was one of those shows I have missed, like Mad Men and True Blood, that I wanted to catch up on. I don't think I had cable at the time it was on the air.

Opinioness of the World said...

Damn, I need to watch 'Deadwood' too! To me, Oliphant will always be the tongue-pierced 20-something guy Carrie sleeps with in the first season of 'Sex and the City.' But this sounds really good.

And yes, MUST watch 'Mad Men' stat!! It truly is that good. It almost fills the void left by 'The Wire.'