Horror clichés keep ‘Crazies’ stagnant

Trevor Pellerite

Whenever a new zombie movie is released, the audience can count on at least two things: plenty of gore and a continuously rising body count, and Breck Eisner’s latest work, “The Crazies,” delivers copious amounts of both. But the movie also delivers something unexpected, and that is a liberal dose of humanity.

The film tells the story of a small town in rural Iowa after the population is infected by a biological weapon in the water supply. The center of attention is Sheriff Dutton (Olyphant), who has a violent encounter with a deranged citizen to start the movie. As things progress, more and more people turn zombie-like creatures. Eventually, the military shows up to attempt to contain the situation. After all the ‘‘crazies’’ escape into the town, the Sheriff is left to lead a small group of survivors out of town past the military to safety.

The strongest aspect of “Crazies” is its powerful and effective cinematography. Eisner utilizes static camera angles to elevate the tension in climactic scenes, creating unease that pairs perfectly with crescendos in the score. The resulting tension becomes nearly unbearable at times. One particularly memorable example of this technique comes when a woman follows her husband out to a dimly lit barn. The entire scene unfolds through two unmoving, partially obstructed camera shots.

The other strong element the film has going for it is its emotion. Generally, horror movies take very little time for developing characters or establishing relationships between them, and this is one area in which “Crazies” did fairly well. The love between Sheriff Dutton and his wife Judy is believable, and when Dutton returns to the town to search for his spouse, the audience is cheering for his success at every step. This is due in no small part to Olyphant’s performance. After a turn as the main villain that made “Live Free or Die Hard” virtually unwatchable, Olyphant redeems himself with an understated, believable performance in “Crazies.”

The film is not without its shortcomings, however. Legendary zombie filmmaker George A. Romero created the original “The Crazies” in 1973, and is executive producer for the 2010 remake. It doesn’t take long after the outbreak spread for his influence to come through, and the film quickly devolved into an unfortunate amalgam of “Dawn of the Dead” and “The Hills Have Eyes.” In the process, it utilized virtually every horror movie and slasher cliché, from characters not ‘waiting here’, to people unnecessarily investigating strange noises. While the film started out so promising, these devices took a lot of luster off the final product.

Additionally, the movie makes an admirable attempt at a realistic and believable epidemic sweeping through the town, giving the explanation that a military cargo plane crashed into the town’s water supply with a deadly toxin. However, the toxin itself was manipulated inconsistently by the filmmakers throughout, turning some people into mindless, bloodthirsty savages and others into coherent, deranged revenge seekers. This would not impact the film greatly if it weren’t for the great effort the makers obviously made to explain the existence of the toxin in the first place. The audience is left waiting for more information that never comes.

Finally, the movie suffers from fairly awful pacing. While the plot begins well and picks up speed at a good rate, it simply doesn’t end. Eisner apparently couldn’t decide between three separate climaxes for the film, and instead chose to incorporate all of them. Just when the audience is looking at their watches waiting for the end credits to roll, the action picks up yet again. This happens several times, until the movie finally concludes with the requisite sequel set-up ending.

Shortcomings aside, “The Crazies” functions well if approached as exactly what it is: a gory zombie movie. While it might not rise to new heights of filmmaking, it sets itself apart within the genre and is worth a rental, at least.