A few years back a couple of my friends and I took a trip to our respective hometowns, and upon arriving in Iowa I made the mistake of saying that it smelled like poo, to which I got an immediate retort full of aggression. You may not guess it based on the stagnate setting, but I quickly learned Iowa is a place where people live on edge, bound to go over it at any second. The Crazies presents what happens when they are given a push in that direction.
I hate to quote a Pixar character in relation to a film full of bloodshed and hatred, but Woody said it best: “Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!” The town’s water supply is contaminated with a toxin that no Brita filter is a match for, and before long the effects begin to ripple out, slowly affecting more and more of the citizens. Some seem to be unnervingly placated at first, but eventually they begin to lash out at those around them, ranging from the silently violent to the aggressively vicious. Shortly after a government quarantine is put into place, but it becomes clear early on that if those unaffected have any hope of surviving they are going to have to fight for it themselves.
In horror films I can forgive the stupid mistakes characters make because I am sure I would do some pretty dumb things in a situation like this. There are always going to be characters that believe a quarantine is the perfect way to stifle a problem, or that the buddy system is for cowards. It stinks that filmmakers often rely on these worn plot points, but in all honesty it is expected in this genre, so I can get past that. What I was most disappointed with in The Crazies is how it handles the element that would allow it to stand out among the other films like it.
Seeing as the story takes place in a small town in Iowa, the idea that everyone knows everyone and trusts everyone becomes rather important. The film toys with the idea that no matter how well you think you know your neighbors and the ones you love, people are capable of unexpected acts of horror. This isn’t about a random hoard of zombies hunting down the inhabitants of the town, it is about the familiar faces doing inexplicable acts of horror, such as a loving father snapping and burning the house down around his family. These are deaths that could easily be seen on the nightly news, and they are all the more chilling and tragic because of how human and recognizable they feel.
What is rather promising is how they handle the mystery of who is infected. Other than the initial water contamination the nature of the toxin is never fully defined, so it is never safe to completely rule out any character from being the next to turn into the aggressor. Also, once someone is infected it is not an immediate change, so every line reading, raised voice, or look in an actor’s eyes became questionable. An argument between Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell’s characters might not just be a spat between spouses; it might be foreshadowing an impending change. Unfortunately somewhere along the way this mystery loses focus as the film gives in to trusted aspects of other zombie/infection movies. The motivated killings give way to the random acts of violence as the infection progresses, producing throngs of faceless killers masked in zombie makeup, making for a film that has been done many times before. This is not to say that it isn’t done well, it’s just nothing new.
It may be unfair to say The Crazies steals from other films considering the 1973 original was made by George A. Romero, a man who easily originated a lot of the concepts of the zombie film, but this does not forgive the fact that it doesn’t really progress the genre in any way. It starts off promising with the mysterious nature of the infection, a very strong cast, and some shocking bursts of violence, but this doesn’t keep it from losing itself to the familiar.
Final Grade: B-