By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

In the seemingly quiet town of Ogden Marsh, all is not well. Citizens suddenly begin to exhibit signs of raving insanity. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) attempt to deal with the problem on a case by case basis, but soon realize something much larger is afoot. Their suspicions are confirmed when the military arrive and the situation reaches apocalyptic proportions. The two collect David’s wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) and find themselves fighting for survival as the town tears itself apart.

The Crazies eschews the socio-political commentary of George Romero’s 1973 original for something much more slick and conventional. Underlying themes go unexplored. Obvious and relevant parallels to current real world paranoia are never drawn. The film never uses its nightmare scenario as an analogy for anything very meaningful. The dialogue and characters exist at the service of the plot. The plot exists mainly to facilitate a series of competently staged action set pieces.

The superficial approach to the material is exemplified by the no-frills visual style employed by director Breck Eisner and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre. Judging by the production values, The Crazies could just as well have been an exceptional straight to DVD film. The cinematographic palette consists mainly of medium and tight shots. Wide angles are only employed when absolutely necessary. The low lighting and dingy colors provide ample opportunities for jump scares (which the film curiously does not capitalize on).

Gore and splatter aficionados may be disappointed by the fairly standard level of violence in the film. Scenes of graphic violence are not adoringly shown for long periods of time. There are some gruesome bits, but nothing approaching the lovingly rendered carnage of your standard zombie film. Mark Isham’s electronic score is fittingly minimalist and obvious. The editing goes more for excitement and thrills than shock and disgust. The Crazies is essentially a post apocalyptic action flick in a horror movie setting as opposed to a straight ahead horror movie.

The Crazies spends very little time establishing its setting and characters. The opening passages unfold in a perfunctory manner. The events of the first act are competently staged but lack gravitas. As a result, the abject horror of the situation never really resonates. Palpable tension doesn’t materialize until well into the second act when the pace picks up considerably. From then on The Crazies establishes a satisfying equilibrium that it sustains until the closing credits.

The three principals manage to generate a tangible chemistry that goes a long way in salvaging the film during its second act. Timothy Olyphant is a functional and believable everyman. Joe Anderson is amusing as David’s second in command. Radha Mitchell fulfills the modern genre trope of the woman in peril who becomes scrappy and battle hardened due to the events taking place. The actors manage to make us care about these characters despite the fact that screenplay gives us very little reason to.

The Crazies is a genre exercise of meager ambition; a journeyman affair designed for undemanding audience members. It offers a diverting hour and a half at the movies and has nothing on its mind aside from appeasing its teenage fan base. In that regard it is serviceable but ultimately weightless. The Crazies is more technically proficient than the original, but not nearly as memorable. It winds up being exactly equal to the sum of its parts. 2.75 out of 5

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