The Crazies is based on the 1973 film by zombie maestro George A. Romero. And like so many of these horror remakes, there's an argument to be made that it doesn't need to exist. There always is. But unlike most of those other remakes, there's another argument to be made that it's one thing that those others aren't: it's a remake of a movie that wasn't all that great to begin with. Remaking a great movie seems pointless, but remaking a bad or mediocre one seems justified.
Breck Eisner, of Sahara fame, updates the tale of a small town gone mad for a 21st century audience that's more accustomed to Zack Snyder's fast zombies than they are Romero's slow ones. The director delivers a vibrancy to a well trodden sub-genre of horror, delivering effective, if often schlocky, thrills at just the right intervals.
The gore is kept at just the right level, straddling the line between being full-on enough but not going over the edge as to turn off the viewer. With a post-apocalyptic story like this, a certain amount of bloody flesh and guts is inevitable – heck, even entirely necessary – and Eisner knows this. But neither is this entering Hostel territory.
In the small town of Ogden Marsh, one day the town sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) notices something isn't right with some of the locals. After killing a man wielding a shotgun at a local baseball game, things go from bad to worse and more and more people starting showing signs that they're not wired correctly upstairs. Before long the military gets involved and people are either held in quarantine or put on buses to get them out of the town. But as things start to get out of even the government's control, it's every man, woman, and child for themselves.
With a clichéd apocalyptic story like that a movie better have some tricks up its sleeve to set itself apart from the rest. And while The Crazies isn't necessarily overflowing with creative and original ideas, there are a few surprises in there to catch the audience off guard. An audience, it should be added, who's seen a thousand of these movies. In this day and age it's hard to wow an audience or feed them anything they aren't already more than familiar with the taste of. But this is an effective film; while not breaking much new ground, it delivers exactly what you'd want from a film of its type.
As is inevitable, the film has its share of problems. It takes a while to get into it, even at the relatively brisk runtime of around 100 minutes. The plot is left ambiguous in relation to just what this virus or sickness is, and more importantly how and why it got released. Now this technique can be used if done well, but rather than feeling artistically complex and ambiguous in a sort of "figure it out for yourself after the credits roll" sort of way, it just feels like the filmmakers couldn't come up with a good way of explaining everything. Perhaps the reason was never fully thought through, who knows. The end result was confusion rather than admiration on my part.
What The Crazies probably does better than anything else is build tension throughout. Once it gets over that initial bump in the road, there are moments of tension that will see it remembered in months to come. And with the number of movies that get released every single week now, that's saying something.
The cast is all solid for the most part, putting in performances that may not being vying for the the acting awards at the Oscars but ultimately get the job done. Timothy Olyphant plays his role with steadfast likability and believability; Radha Mitchell, even if she's a little too "pretty actress-like" for a role that's supposed to be the average woman in a small town, is as watchable as ever; and Joe Anderson, who plays the town deputy, fills the role of nervous yet eager sidekick well (although throughout I couldn't help but be constantly reminded of actor John Hawkes).
So The Crazies may not be trying to reinvent the horror sub-genre of which it's a part, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a solid entry. It does what it needs to do by providing tense pre-attack scenes, gory enough but not too gory sequences involving the crazy townsfolk themselves, and it actually succeeds in making us care about the main characters. It's certainly one of the better remakes to have been produced by Hollywood, which is oh so fond of them. The ending is a little too over the top and doesn't really fit all that came before, but I walked away from this one satisfied with the time and money I'd spent on it. What else can you really ask for from a movie like this?