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Crazies (2010), The
"The Crazies" is a sporadically splendid thriller saddled with seriously banal horror embellishment. It should come as little surprise to learn the film is a remake, extracted from the thin skin of George Romero's 1973 chiller. The paranoia and general Vietnam-era dread has been chiseled off the material by director Breck Eisner, who shapes a more direct shot of scares, gussied up with overtly slick filmmaking that spends more time on technical challenges than it does lacing together a consistently nail-biting motion picture.
Something is happening to the residents of a rural Iowa town that perplexes Sheriff Dave Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, "Live Free or Die Hard"). A mysterious illness is turning the locals into bloodthirsty, zombie-like killers, with the wave of infection creeping throughout the area, striking indiscriminately. While Dutton and Deputy Clank (Joe Anderson, "Across the Universe") stop to figure out their next move, a swarm of U.S. soldiers swoop in to seal off the town, killing off the infected and sending the rest into quarantine. Realizing their situation is grim, Dutton rescues wife Judy (Radha Mitchell, "Surrogates") from medical detainment and takes off with Clank, hoping to break out of town and find a safe haven free of the deadly plague.
Successfully modernizing Romero's "The Crazies" isn't exactly moving a mountain. A tinny thriller with porno-like production values, the original hasn't stood the test of time, remaining more of an earned stretch mark for the director than a creative highlight. Eisner scraps Romero's spare determination for a wildly visual film, which imagines the infected as stalking, zoned-out demons with an irresistible urge to exterminate anything in their path. Feeling more "Dawn of the Dead" than helplessly infirmed, the titular creatures are impressively made-up in increasingly horrifying ways, but they sum up the major problem "Crazies" faces as it continues down a path of doom: it prefers horror over suspense.
The crackerjack opening act of the picture sets a forbidding tone, as Dutton slowly processes the gravity of the infection, investigating the source of the nightmare as soldiers in intimidating NBC suits flood the town, coldly killing and burning terrified residents. Eisner, who hasn't been seen on the big screen since 2005's "Sahara," mines the story potential smartly, creating a few marvelous moments of menace that play up the tension of the outbreak, not just money shots of gushing wounds. Watching the town crumble into madness is exactly where "The Crazies" inhales most interestingly, capturing the intensity and futility of the moment with welcome screen precision. But let's face the reality: Eisner is itching to scare the pants of viewers.
Once "Crazies" switches over to ghoulish business, the concentration of the picture wanes. Eisner starts poking around for grandiose gore zone set-pieces (including an inane clash inside a working car wash), expelling more energy on cheap jump scares and hackneyed visual touches than sustaining the unsettling devastation. The scares mostly originate from the horror playbook and have a nasty way of underlining the apathetic performances, which, to be fair, emerge from lackluster actors (Olyphant barely has a pulse here) burdened with atrocious lines. "Crazies" is better off silent, but Eisner likes to keep the talent chatty, killing suspense by having his cast verbally reinforce the obvious bewilderment.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) provides a sturdy representation of the visual intent of the movie, with the colors of small town America preserved carefully on the DVD. When all hell breaks loose, the DVD follows suit, offering solid black levels to buttress evening attack sequences and low-light encounters. EE is present, and skintones are not nearly as pronounced as they could be, but the genre feel is maintained throughout the presentation, best when action is clearly detailed in the bright outdoors.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is extremely active, with a nice tremor of suspense to help unsettle the listener. Dialogue is frontal and crisp, always understandable, while sound effects are well placed in the surrounds, allowing for plenty of directional activity when action comes into play. Low-end rumbles are available for explosions and havoc, generously creating unease. Scoring cues are well place and pronounced, balanced well with the vocal activity.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
The feature-length audio commentary with director Breck Eisner (who sounds exactly like his father Michael) is a concentrated conversation that covers every corner of the "Crazies." Eisner comes prepared and eager to impart any and all information about the film, which shot in two states (Iowa and Georgia) and had to contend with the whole remake bugaboo. Eisner calmly dissects his film, covering development of the script, the idea of zombie vs. non-zombie, and general artistic accomplishments and difficult production decisions. It's a marvelous commentary track, and I highly recommend a listen.
"Behind the Scenes with Break Eisner" (10:35) is a simplistic promotional featurette, interviewing cast and crew about the film's scares and acting challenges. Attention moves over to Eisner, with the interviewees breaking down their experience working with the filmmaker. While loaded with platitudes, it's amusing to hear the natural accents of the cast during the conversations.
"Paranormal Pandemics" (9:40) returns to the cast and crew, who share their attempt to infuse "The Crazies" with as much realism as possible, while still preserving the cinematic possibilities of the script. The best stuff is saved for make-up and prosthetic discussion, where the textures of the outbreak are surveyed in gruesome detail.
"The George A. Romero Template" (9:55) chats up the legendary director, with "Phantasm" helmer Don Coscarelli and various horror journalists discussing Romero's legacy and political acumen. It's a tongue bath, but a deserved one, even if the interviewees gets a little carried away to secure their camera time.
"Make-up Mastermind: Rob Hall in Action" (11:27) steps into the lab to show how the gross stuff is created and applied on the actors. The fauxhawked maestro of the macabre, Mr. Hall, guides the demonstration, showing step by step how the make-up comes together.
"'The Crazies' Motion Comic: Episode One" (14:40) and "Episode Two" (12:44) acts a prequel of sorts, endeavoring to provide background information and further adventures of madness in comic book form.
"Visual Effects in Motion" (3:42) is a short reel demonstrating the layers of CG ornamentation that brought a few key sequences to life.
"Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery" consists of 40 pictures from the making of the movie, including a few from what seems to be an extended ending for the film.
And a Teaser and two Theatrical Trailers are included.
Surprisingly, "The Crazies" remains a bleak event until the bitter end, where our heroes face a chilling military finality. The picture deserves credit for maintaining a tone of despair, even if the excessive showiness of the direction foolishly slices the delicious doomsday mood in half.