30 years ago George A. Romero changed the face of horror cinema. Almost every one of Romero’s early films was innovative, ambitious, and had a lasting effect on the genre. Now, Breck Eisner has just released the latest forgettable remake of Romero’s seminal works. Few filmgoers outside of dedicated splatter fans have even heard of Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. In 2004 Zach Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead and replaced the playfulness, weight, and ambition of the original with labored action movie melodrama. And five years from now Eisner’s mega-budget reimagining of The Crazies will be just as ignored.
This new version of The Crazies takes place in the small town stereotype of Ogden Marsh, where maps show a landscape riddled with waterways while sweeping establishing shots show acres of flat farmland as far as the eye can see. The first high school baseball game of the season is interrupted when Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) is forced to shoot Rory, who wandered out on the baseball field and pointed a shotgun at him. There was something wrong with Rory, and it’s spreading quickly through the town. David has to keep his wife (played by Radha Mitchell) and those close to him safe from the violent infected townsfolk and the military sent to contain the spreading virus.
The Crazies is a rather stunningly average Hollywood flick. Toeing the line between horror and action, a few jump scares and some impressive makeup effects are all that qualify me, as the Pittsburgh Horror Movie Examiner, to review this film. Gore hounds will be disappointed and all attempts at creepy atmospherics seem a bit tired and mechanical. The film hints at subtext, updating Romero’s critique of the military and the Vietnam War, but Eisner’s version of The Crazies never ventures past hinting.
Timothy Olyphant leads the cast in his usual gruff, masculine role. We’ve seen it before, but somehow Olyphant’s performances never seem tired or repetitive. Radha Mitchell’s role, on the other hand, seemed to involve more ‘damsel in distress’ than actual acting.
The Crazies is perhaps a fitting example of the recent trend in Hollywood film and horror film in particular. Take a classic movie that was new, daring, and influential in its time, and remake it as a big-budget, star-driven, safe investment for the studio. With the current state of the economy, Hollywood is in lockdown mode and they’re relying on safe movies like The Crazies to stay afloat until conditions improve. After seeing The Wolfman and The Crazies though, “safe” seems to be a code word for “mediocre.”