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still_04Welcome to Ogden Marsh, Iowa, population 1260, the friendliest place on earth. Friendliest place, that is, until a mysterious virus rips through town turning the quaint townsfolk into homicidal maniacs. A remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 movie of the same name, “The Crazies” is a classic tale of “us” versus “them”, with an extra “them” thrown in for good measure.

The town is picture perfect, the kind of Norman Rockwell community where the first baseball game of the year is a big event that attracts everyone in town. The season opener, however, turns into a nightmare when Rory, a local farmer, wanders onto the field with a shotgun, a blank expression and bad intentions. Gunned down by town sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) Rory is just the first victim of the upcoming hillbilly holocaust caused by a government biochemical weapon in the town’s water supply. Soon, after several strange murders and a block on all landlines, internet and cell phones in town Dutton uses his Holmesian powers of deduction to determine that “something’s really wrong.” Think of it as “28 Days Later” without the English accents.

“The Crazies” is a dark little movie, and I don’t just mean subject wise. It’s dark as though it was shot through a long sooty chimney. The murky darkness is meant to build atmosphere, and by and large it works. Director Breck Eisner creates tension, using darkness and shadows, only occasionally showing the gory stuff and even when the screen does go red, the chills are low-fi. Probably just as well, I don’t think we need close-ups of Ben, the former high school principal, now a thoroughly koo-koo bananas crazy killer repeatedly stabbing people with a pitchfork. Blood drips and there are lotsa squibs but this is more about tension and Romero’s original intention—setting up a comparison between the mania created by the virus and the martial law actions of the government when they try to contain the outbreak. It’s Dutton versus the crazies and the government versus everybody and that dynamic is the most interesting part of the movie.

The horror doesn’t hold up particularly well. This is one of those “everyone we know is dead” movies. A story where the hero husband says to his wife, “You wait here and don’t go anywhere,” while proceeding to leave her vulnerable and open to attack. She, of course responds, “Stop pretending everything is going to be OK!” It’s the clichéd dialogue of every couples-in-peril movie and could use a facelift.

“The Crazies” isn’t as off-the-wall crazy as the title would suggest. It gets the tone right—the atmosphere and tension are well done—but could have used a script that expanded on the government’s role in the epidemic and went a little lighter on some of the clichés and added some depth to the theme of the collapse of social order.

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