Rated R/103 min.
Two Out of Five Stars
A friend told me recently that his neighbors were living “off the grid” and that they owned a shotgun and lots of survival gear and supplies, just in case “smart bombs” took out electricity nationwide and life became every man and woman for themselves. At first I shrugged him off—until thoughts of a world free of electricity, no more fuel, not enough food and everyone running around with sawed-off shotguns began to somersault in my mind. The Crazies thrives off this type of “the world is over” paranoia, the kind that’s easy to dismiss as conspiracy theory nonsense, until you stop and realize that it’s not so farfetched after all.
This remake of an early, little-known George A. Romero horror film stars Timothy Olyphant as a resourceful sheriff who goes on the run with his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell) when nearly every citizen of his small town becomes a violence-prone zombie (and really, is there another kind?). An unseen force watches as a quiet, Norman Rockwellian way of life devolves into an unending loop of destruction and murder.
There’s a lot that works, beginning with the believable performances (Olyphant’s clenched-teeth intensity suits the role), a few potent scares, a knockout of a closing scene and how, even at its most far-out, the scenario has an internal logic that feels chillingly plausible.
What doesn’t work are the recycled horror movie clichés—and the fact that the filmmakers think they can get away with recycling them. Evildoers creeping up on characters with seemingly no peripheral vision? Check. Music blaring a “shriek chord” whenever a cheap jump is needed? Yup. Protagonists constantly splitting up for no reason, and making idiotic decisions (like “hiding out” in front of a large window)? Why, of course. I can forgive this for being yet another zombie pre/post-apocalyptic thriller, but the old-hat gimmicks stand out all the more because of recent films—Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland—that have poked fun at them.
Romero produced this version, which I liked better than the recent remakes of his Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead; the latter original in particular remains the unbeatable masterpiece of zombie cinema. Horror fans, of course, will eat The Crazies up, brains and all.
Despite its flaws, the film’s uncomfortably timely depiction of a world where no one can be trusted is haunting. I’m an optimistic realist who believes in the inherent good of mankind, but, as I walked out of the theater, I found myself wondering how much survival gear goes for at Sears.