Friday, November 18, 2016

I'm Just Saying: THE CRAZIES (2010)

Last week, I scrapped my plans to write about an apocalyptic movie in honor of a Trump presidency, since there was no way that could possibly happen.  So let me say it is purely coincidental that this week I’m writing about a bunch of insane people in the Mid-West who just might bring about the destruction of our country.  Zero connection with current events.  Honestly, I just re-watched this one during my October horror binge and remembered how great a movie it is.  I am in no way making allusions between Trump voters and the 2010 remake of THE CRAZIES.   

Other than the title.  
The Capsule:

Life is simple in the quiet town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa.  At least until some of the residents start to go a little off—doing things like zoning out, repeating themselves, and walking into a high school baseball game with a loaded shotgun.  It might have something to do with that mysterious military plane that crashed in the river, releasing a doozy of a biological weapon into the town’s drinking water.  Just as Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) starts to piece together what is happening to his formerly non-murderous neighbors, the Army descends on the entire town, putting everyone under quarantine.  Soon things get out of hand, and David, his doctor wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), her assistant, Becca (Danielle Panabaker), and Deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) decide to make a break for it.  To make it to safety, they will need to get past not only a town full of crazies, but a military containment unit whose idea of treatment is liberally applied bullets, followed by a flamethrower.

Superficial analogies aside, THE CRAZIES isn’t a democratic nightmare, it’s a libertarian one.  For the law abiding citizens of Ogden Marsh, the government is literally out to get them.  The remake is even more blatant about it than George Romero’s 1973 original.  His version focused much more on the military’s attempt to contain and even cure the Trixie virus they accidentally unleashed.  The Army in the original is similarly at odds with the survivors—the troops herd up the town’s residents and don't hesitate to put down the infected.  The motives of those in charge of the operation are notably more sympathetic, though.  The Army commander is frustrated with the logistic and bureaucratic obstacles preventing him from helping the residents.  The head scientist works (and complains) tirelessly to find a cure.  They are trying their best, and they are anguished that it is not enough.

The remake gives us none of that.  The motives of the military, and presumably the government itself, are never made clear.  Are they trying to stop a pandemic, like professional stone-faced government guy Glenn Morshower says, or are they just trying to cover up their involvement?  They are aware of what is going on, but they do not intervene until David finds the evidence that can implicate them.  It seems like an accident, but they knowingly created the virus in the first place.  Even though the plot is grade A conspiracy theory paranoia, it’s not totally unthinkable that someone would want to manage the PR impact.  The truth is going to look bad.  Wiping out a town—or all of Iowa—is not something you can just blame on an intern.

Still, things aren’t completely black and white.  With their gas masks on, the troops are a faceless, merciless mob of killers, pulling crying children from their parents’ arms.  Take the mask away, though, and they are just normal people.  The kid that David and Russell capture and interrogate knows nothing more than they do.  He’s just following orders, and he’s ashamed of it.  When David’s group lets him go, he doesn’t rat them out to his squad.  He’s trying to do right in a messed up situation.

Though the Army is the primary threat, the crazies themselves are the real highlight.  It could easily have gone in a more traditional zombie movie approach by making the infected just mindless monsters, but it takes an extra, unsettling step.  Nearly all of the crazies David's group runs into are characters briefly but memorably introduced in the first act. They are friends and neighbors.  For the most part, decent people.  That makes it even more chilling when the high school principal suddenly shows up dragging a pitchfork behind him, systematically perforating the restrained, helpless patients housed in his own auditorium.  Or, when the funeral director starts sewing up bodies that aren’t dead yet.  Even the incidental scenes have thought put into them, like when the survivors walk by a bunch of the baseball players from the opening who are methodically pounding their fists into a steel dumpster.

This Trixie virus is a real son of a bitch.  Giving it a cute name didn’t help.  Before turning its hosts into complete psychos, it distorts and subverts their personalities.  The loving husband turns on his family.  The wife and son of the man David had to shoot at the baseball game force David to watch as they try to kill Judy.  Deputy Russell is the saddest case.  While David refuses to admit they could become infected, Rus sees his inevitable fate clearly.  “I’m no world leader, but I had plans,” he laments.  Even when the sickness starts to creep in, working on his insecurities and paranoia, making him dangerous, he keeps it together.  He still wants to do the right thing.  His last act is a little bit of conciliation, at least.  He gets to sacrifice himself to help his friends. 

Of course, when the people are assholes to begin with, watch out.  The three redneck hunters who find the crashed plane’s pilot only needed the tiniest nudge from the virus to coax them into poaching people instead of deer.  When they show up briefly in the middle, with their pickup full of trophy bodies, they are treated like T-Rex Crazies, top of the crazy food chain.  Standard crazies want to kill you, these motherfuckers want to mount you on their wall.  The giant Viking looking dude with the Mohawk could be the main villain in a slasher movie just by himself, and that is before he gets all veiny and Trixie-roided out.  As intimidating as they are, the tension of the film was so relentless that I forget about them for a while.  It was a nice (and awful) surprise when they show up at the very end, silently staring at David and Judy in what they thought was a sanctuary.    

Though the story is centered in a single town, it has a bit of an apocalyptic road movie feel, like something Stephen King would write.  It moves from one self-contained scene to the next, with just a quick breather in between the tension.  The pacing is fantastically tight—no filler, but still having room for organic character development.  The big suspense scenes are staged differently enough to stand out.  While I do enjoy a good bone saw fight, the best is probably the car wash attack.  David’s group is trapped in a car as it advances down the track as the spinning brushes, water spray, and noise hide the crazies that might be around them.  It’s like the worst funhouse ride ever.

Timothy Olyphant is a man comfortable with playing a lawman.  THE CRAZIES was in between his role as hotheaded frontier sheriff Seth Bullock in Deadwood and his magnificent turn as U.S. Marshall Rayland Givens in Justified.  David Dutton is more of an “aw shucks” small town constable.  He has a smile for everyone, but nothing gets by him, and he lets people know it.  Olyphant plays him with more doubt and vulnerability than with Rayland.  It’s still a bad idea to try and outdraw him, though.  Once the shit starts to go down, David struggles to keep it together.  He gets snippy and makes mistakes, but his determination to keep his wife safe pushes him through.  

Olyphant is brilliant at conveying simmering anger just under the surface.  He explodes a few times, but mostly he just plays it with a searing glance.  It is all he can do to bite his tongue when someone is yelling something obvious to him.  His expression alone shouts “I AM trying to start the fucking car!  There are a couple of times I was surprised the crazies didn’t just back away awkwardly, trying not make eye contact.  Best just to let that guy cool off a bit.  If Olyphant got into an intense-off with Michael Shannon, the Earth would probably crack in two.

Radha Mitchell makes is a great match for him as Judy.  Though she has her fatalistic moments, she is very feisty and doesn’t let that pesky Hippocratic oath keep her from wasting some crazy bastards when need be.  I’ve been following Michell since PITCH BLACK and I haven’t been disappointed in her choices.  She has a taste for genre work, with great turns in films like SILENT HILL and ROGUE.  There is something about her big, haunted eyes that works so well for horror and sci-fi.   

This tense, tight little nail-biter came from a land seeped in remakes.  Co-writer Scott Kosar did screenplays for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remakes, so I can't explain how this one came out so well (he also did THE MACHINIST, which I liked).  Director of photography Maxime Alexandre, who composed some exquisite shots in this, did cinematography on the excellent remakes of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and MANIAC.  Director Breck Eisner, has only done two other theatrical releases, neither remakes (2005’s SAHARA and 2015’s THE LAST WITCH HUNTER), though he is currently attached to the re-remake of FRIDAY THE 13th.That seems like a bad idea, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt based on this one.

See, this was not a political statement at all. Only talking about movies.  There is no way I am saying a shadow government exposed the Mid-West (and beyond) to a mind altering Trumpie virus that caused millions of reasonable people to make catastrophically bad decisionsThat's just...crazy?

C Chaka 

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