Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Crazies


Review by Eoin O’Faolain

In many ways The Crazies feels like the last gasps of a dying genre. A remake of a George Romero (the man behind Night of the Living Dead) movie, it embodies all the problems of horror movies. And these problems are becoming increasingly evident to media-smart masses who can dissect cinema’s language and are frankly getting bored of the way horror is going (just look at the track record of horror flicks over the past year. Even the Saw franchise has been cut down to size). The usual, lazy ways of thrilling and chilling us are not working anymore. Instead, the immediate eeriness of reality-horror films like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield seem to appeal more and more to the emerging YouTube-raised generation.

The remake deals with a small, relatively isolated sleepy U.S. Corn Belt town. The local doctor (Radha Mitchell) is married to the local sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), and everyone gets together during baseball games. Only during one match a disturbed local with a gun wanders onto the field, causing a tense standoff between him and the sheriff. And it’s only a matter of time before other people in the town start going loopy and get homicidal. But the dastardly old American government only wants to seal off the area and kill everyone, crazy or not, to stop the mysterious virus, and so Doc and Cop must escape the area while avoiding both loons and trigger-happy marines.

Romero has praised the modern version of the film as a true remake. But considering how awful Diary of the Dead is, Romero’s taste may not be in the best of conditions. Romero’s probably just happy there’s some sort of political reference in there, having spent the last few years detesting the vacuous torture-porn sub-genre. But the criticism of the U.S. for its gung-ho military attitude has been done to death so much it’s almost a cliché by now. And The Crazies is nothing more than a summary of all the clichés of horror movies, especially in the last few years. It has the running zombie-like enemies that 28 Days Later so brilliantly started and no longer have the same impact. And The Crazies commits some of the worst crimes of horror cinema:

1) No Peripheral Vision. Seriously, are we supposed to believe movie characters are donning invisible blinkers whenever they enter a room? In one scene Doc enters a bedroom and completely misses the deranged crazy in the corner. And considering she’s already been assaulted several times, you’d think she’d be cautious about any rooms she enters? Horror directs want to scare us by tricking us into thinking a space is safe when it isn’t, but it’s at the expense of any natural sense of caution us humans even, even when under duress.

2) Splitting up for no reason. “Right, so we’re in a dimly lit building we barely know. I know… you stay in this open, visible area while I stroll through creepy corridors!”  Or so reasons the protective Cop over his beloved Doc. Again, it’s completely contrary to human instinct. If you’re scared, you naturally want to remain together. Strength in numbers, more eyes covering more angles, etc. It’s just common sense! Again, it’s a device for allowing more jolts (see below), but the problem is that it takes us out of the situation (and thus dampens the impact of the mood) and comes across as plain silly.

3) Gotcha jolts.  You see them a mile away. It’s when the music and sound effects suddenly go all quiet, and the camera angle places our hero far enough to the side to allow for someone to jump into frame and scream loudly. Or else it’s our hero’s friend tapping him on the shoulder to say hello (but of course the friend must have tiptoed behind to not be heard!). It’s cheap, it’s predictable, it’s usually unlikely, and it’s really only to scare your nervous teenage girlfriend so you can put your arm around her.

4) Saved at the last moment. You’ll see this is almost every episode of Lost, and there are some prime examples in The Crazies. Our hero is being attacked (a buzzsaw aimed at Cop’s groin, the pitchfork guy mentioned above), death is imminent, we all internally scream “how will he survive that”, only for a random character armed to the teeth to pull the plug/shoot the loon at the very last possible second. Again, it’s used so frequently that we now expect it and the tension is lost from the outset. Why not have our hero do it himself, or just be honest and show the friend arrive earlier? It may spoil the last-minute surprise (which we’re already expecting) but you can salvage it with other devices of tension, such as the struggle to pry off the deranged murdered, or the stress of aiming right and not taking out our hero by accident.

There’s also the fifth cliché, which is the awfulness of dialogue and performance rife in the horror genre, but that’s a much more difficult problem that isn’t just applicable to horror.

Now, that is not to say that The Crazies doesn’t have its moments. The opening scene will strike a chilling chord with anyone who has been paying attention to the many unprovoked gunman attacks seen around the world in the last few years. In another scene Doc is strapped to a hospital bed as a crazy with a pitchfork nears the panicking doc as he skewers every restrained patient in sight. The apocalyptic vision of a mass of infected people swarming through an area still has some resonance.  And there’s even a redemptive moment for one of the faceless marines. But there’s too many conventional devices and clichés to make it any more than a dumb, passable waste of time if you’ve nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

It’s frustrating to see a film like The Crazies when we know there’s life in horror, or specifically, reality horror. Sure, there were some problems with Paranormal Activity (some found the build-up too slow, and some of the decision made by the couple were counter-intuitive). But if you truly want to unnerve people, especially if you want the effect to last beyond the three seconds it takes to recover from a “Gotcha” jolt, then reality-horror seems to be the way. And the real task is whether it can marry its new documentary-style techniques with the traditions of storytelling (plot, theme, characters). Now, rather than the passable 100 minutes of The Crazies, that’s something I’d actually like to see.

 2 / 5 stars

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