Friday, February 26, 2010

Fear Thy Neighbour

Director: Breck Eisner
Writers: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
2010 | USA | R | 101 mins

You know, I've come to accept it, as it's just plain inevitable and it's already been happening for so many years now that there really is no stop to it. I'm not hating it any longer, but I'm not growing fond of it, I'm just accepting it as is. In a town where ideas are put through the meat grinder and then pulled out of a hat you just have to come to terms that they are just going to remake your favourite films from your favourite directors whether you like it or not. And you know what, I'm starting to become OK with that. And no, it's not because I don't care whether they remake my favourite films or not, it's really that no matter how good or how bad the remake turns out I know I still have the original film to go back to and it's not going to change on me. So let's get on with it and find out if The Crazies remake is worth going crazy over.

Welcome to Ogden Marsh, a quiet agricultural-based town in Iowa, where life is quaint yet the people are hard working. Where everyone knows everyone and life just moves along. That's all until Rory Hamill (Mike Hickman), a local farmer, interrupts a town baseball game with a crazed stare and a loaded shotgun. Town Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) tries to talk him down but it escalates quickly and Rory is shot dead after taking aim at the Sheriff. Something didn't seem right about Rory during the incident, and soon more townsfolk are exhibiting the same symptoms, almost as if they're all going crazy. But things get real crazy when the military quarantines the entire town under unknown motivations and mass confusion and hysteria set it. Now David, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) and a few other town's people must try to survive and find out what exactly is going on.

For those unaware, The Crazies is based upon a 1973 film of the same name (or under it's alternate title 'Code Name: Trixie') written and directed by genre legend George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). Both the original film and the remake follow generally the same story and plot but the remake does update the context of the film and add a few new surprises and twists. As much as I enjoy the original, it does have its problems and can be a bit slow at times. The remake, also with its problems (some of which also stem from the original), however moves along quite briskly. It establishes it's characters and settings right away and also wastes no time at getting into the contamination factor that sets up the entire film. I was actually quite surprised and entertained at how it went straight to this and cut a lot of the fat out that it could potentially have had if it went the more traditional route we're used to with these types of films. Breck Eisner's direction is taut and he's able to get some genuine scares but he also does not let things get out of control. Initially, my reaction after first seeing the trailer was that they were going to overdo the crazies and have way too many of them and it would be too focused on the action and scare tactics, but instead it's perfectly balanced with the survival and escape plot of the few survivors. It's almost as if it's giving you time to breath in between the crazies attack sequences even though the scenes involving their seemingly impossible escape are tense and suspenseful in themselves.

Scott Kosar (The Machinist) is not unfamiliar with remakes since he also wrote The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes, and here he and his co-writer Ray Wright (Case 39) faithfully adapt George A. Romero's script without bastardizing the material. It was great to even see a cameo appearance from original cast member Lynn Lowry as a creepy 'crazy lady' riding her bike through town while humming a chilling tune, as well as a lot of great homages and sequences right out of the original. Also, while not award-winning performances, all the cast stand their ground and are all quite fitting into their roles. I usually don't care for Timothy Olyphant as he usually feels kind of stiff in his roles, but this is by far his best role. He plays the lead Sheriff with thought and conviction and finally we have a smart character in a horror film who can read between the lines and figure out what's going on at the same time we, the audience, are also figuring it out. Usually we're a step or five ahead, but here we're finally on the same page as the characters we are watching. Especially in horror films, this is very rare. Joe Anderson as Deputy Russell Clank is fun to watch as he's both a smart-ass snaky SOB and a tough guy who still knows his balance of power, and perfectly complimented David Dutton's character.

Overall, The Crazies is a highly entertaining and refreshing jolt in the horror genre as of late, especially when it comes to remakes. The story does have some issues, especially with logic (if a character's hand has been stabbed and he gets contaminated blood all over it, shouldn't he too eventually become a 'crazy'?). And the ending, too, does go little off the deep end but at least the overall film prior to that faithfully stayed true to its original source while updating it for today's audiences without hand-feeding them action and gore. The Crazies, while fast-paced, does take time to focus on telling a story and establishing characters and this is what is missing from most of these types of films. Here we have substance with our mayhem, and that makes an effecting, taut, scary film that doesn't dumb it down for the audience. The make-up effects are quite good, the direction and writing above par for remakes, and it's just plain old entertaining. If you're a fan of the original, or a fan of horror cinema in general, The Crazies is definitely worth a look.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist

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