Last night our car was stopped at the studio gate by "Army guys" (some in gas masks, all brandishing rifles) who checked our IDs and wanted to know if we'd imbibed any tap water that day. I lied and said no- I'm clearly not to be trusted at the End of Days. We drove deep into the "quarantine zone" past more shouting, flashlight-waving army guys and sheriff's department officers, past humvees and warning signs and flashing lights. After we finally parked, we were herded into a line where it would be determined whether or not we were "infected". Army guys checked my credentials while "doctors" took my temperature (in my ear, thank jebus)...as we were apparently "clean", we were given green wristbands and yelled at some more. Guns were pointed at us as "MOVE MOVE MOVE!" was barked, Crazies on gurneys pleaded for help, other crazies were restrained at gunpoint...it was all very loud and bewildering. Finally we got on a school bus and were driven...not the half-block to the movie theater, but to another location. We were forced off the bus and told to walk single-file...of course, we were heading to the theater, but now we had to walk a greater distance than it was from the parking garage where we started. And it was raining. And there was so much yelling! Despite all the threats, none of the journalists seemed to "hustle".
Finally we got to the fucking theater. Before the movie began there was a "security breach" and Army guys hauled off a Crazy. I wondered why we were sitting in a movie theater when clearly the world was ending and there were people dying right outside. Then the movie began.
Was all of that fun? Sure it was. I probably would have rather just, you know, gone to a screening, but I do enjoy those haunted houses that pop up during October, you know? While the extravaganza didn't influence my opinion of the film, I suppose that's a possibility with some critics so bear that in mind when you read reviews. Shit like this goes on and perks are given to journalists...and while I certainly don't want to accuse anyone or any websites of giving out good reviews solely due to said perks (or the opportunity to be quoted on a poster or ad), I think you should know about the wooing. I mean, I haven't even gotten to the after-party yet.
The small town of Ogden Marsh, IA falls apart quickly after residents suddenly become...homicidally weird. A man locks his family in the house and sets the house on fire. The town drunk brings a shotgun to a high school baseball game. People are just plain jerks.
Some hunters find a dead body out in a marsh; his tangled parachute indicates that he was a pilot, so Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) goes in search of the downed plane. It's found a short time later and Dutton quickly deduces that this water feeds into Ogden Marsh's drinking supply- something from the wreckage could be causing the widespread wackadoo-ness.
Before Dutton or his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), the town's doctor, can figure out a way to help people or stop the spread, the Army sweeps in. They quickly round up the denizens of Ogden Marsh, executing the infected and quarantining the town. The Duttons, along with a couple of their colleagues, need to get the fuck out of Dodge.
If you're familiar at all with the 1973 film upon which The Crazies is based, you'll see that the plot hasn't much changed. Trixie, a biological weapon developed by the military, is still to blame for the onset of violence. The Army still takes drastic measures to contain the outbreak. What's changed in the 35 years since George Romero's effort is style and approach. While the original film was subtle by no means (so much yelling), the "Crazies" themselves were a bit more insidious than they are in their modern incarnation. The developing illness was a gradual thing, and it was almost impossible to tell who had murderous intent until it was too late. Here, the incubation period is fairly short and there's a physical change to the infected...they get grody. They're also extremely violent, but it's of the 'kill kill' variety; again, if you've seen Romero's film you'll realize that there's a lot of abhorrent violence one can inflict that doesn't simply mean "murder". The Crazies '10 never pushes that boundary, despite plenty of opportunities to do so.
Director Breck Eisner's effort is very solid. It's well-made, it looks terrific, and it's a hell of a lotta fun. There are some very welcome touches of humor, there's plenty of gore and action, the cast makes us care a bit about characters that aren't all that interesting. It's possible that The Crazies would be best seen with a group, so everyone can scream and yell and have those sorts of communal horror experiences. It's that kind of movie. It's also worth noting that the editing, thank Christ, is not of the frenetic variety. Even when the action is at its height, you can see everything and tell what's going on. I wish that approach to horror filmmaking wasn't noteworthy, but these days it is.
The Crazies is also the kind of movie that relies heavily (I can't stress that word enough) on jump scares- enough that it gets a little grating after a while. Music stings and loud noises, one can only take so much, you know? Eisner also goes to the well a few too many times in certain instances, employing the same trick over and over: you know, one of those JUMP SCARE - "It's just me!" moments repeated several times, or "Oh no, the Crazy is gonna kill me oh no oh no oh no PHEW my friend saved me!" executed so often that you quickly realize the protagonists are never going to die.
Overall, would I recommend The Crazies? Yeah. It's a good time. It's not necessarily a thoughtful time- whether that matters to you or not may determine if you drop your 15 bucks on it. If you're looking for a film that's going to provoke discourse (beyond the requisite logic issues that spring up) or tap into, you know, grand themes or give insights into human nature, well, you'd best keep looking. Still, you could do a a lot worse- The Crazies is better than any number of recent theatrical horror releases.
Oh, and Lynn Lowry gets a cameo so it's alright in my book.
So, that after-party...it was a fucking circus. Music, free drinks, free food; various photo opportunities, the option to get your face done up all Crazy-like; a stuntman set himself on fire for our entertainment. Radha Mitchell and Timothy Olyphant were there to work the crowd. Heidi and I spent some time telling them how we would have liked the film to end, and they laughed at our jokes so that's fine. Ms. Mitchell asked if I enjoyed the movie overall, and I told her basically what I told you above. I mentioned the original film, and we had this exchange:
Her: You what scene I missed from the original?
Me: The rape scene?
Me: Right, you don't know your dad's a Crazy until he's, you know, raping you.
Her: They really should have kept that. It was remarkable.
Then I had a cookie, watched the stuntman burn, and left.
EDITED TO ADD: Shock Till You Drop has a photo gallery of the screening madness.