Those two aspects of the film have stayed with me for a long time, so I wondered how this remake would hold up, and if this could build on my memories of the original, which I remember not coming through on all levels, and which quite possibly does not stand up to the test of time.
With Timothy Olyphant and Rhada Mitchell taking the leads and Breck Eisner directing, my hopes were pretty well up, and I thought it could do just that. Then the trailers hit and they confirmed my hopes, the film looked pretty good.
The Sheriff and his deputy begin to receive more and more calls about incidents which are escalating in severity, and at the same time the doctor of the small town, also the Sheriff's wife, notices that a few of her patients are exhibiting strange, detached symptoms.
Something is very wrong, and as they start to realise they find they are cut off from the outside world.
The first thing you notice about The Crazies is how well it opens. The “Two Days Earlier” captioned scene and the slow play out of the first event which pulls back to another, larger perspective of the events, are all executed slickly and with plenty of pace and style.
I really liked these scenes, quickly the film we're going to be seeing is defined in terms of what's going to happen, the instigating event that begins it all, and the realisation that there's something else going on than the events in the town. All these things add a great deal of tension and paranoia from the opening scenes, as well as making us wonder how it's going to get as bad as that “Two Days Earlier” scene.
The set-up couldn't have been done better, and it put me in a great frame of mind for the rest of the film. Now here's where it's worth talking about that frame of mind and how I felt about the film, for I went with a friend and talked to someone else who had seen it afterwards, and the opinions were mixed.
My friend, Louise aka Weezy77, said that she wasn't that taken with the film, that there were clichés galore in it. Meanwhile Bodzy85 didn't like it to begin with, but after a little discussion thought that there might be something in it if he took the time to revisit it after his instant, post-watch feelings.
Yet I actually enjoyed it, and I wonder if it was down to a mixture of remembering the original with some fondness but realising that it could do with a remake, accepting that the remake was happening and might not be a bad thing, and walking in without any preconceptions or baggage, particularly associated with George A. Romero.
Actually I have to say that the last part is untrue, I do carry mental baggage associated with George A. Romero films in that I really don't see what all the fuss is about the man and his continuing zombie films, particularly these days. In fact it's fair to say I walked into The Crazies not really making any connection with Romero.
I wouldn't say my expectations were low, or that there weren't any, I think that when the news first came of the remake I didn't really have any expectations.
However, let's get back to the film.
After these opening sequences, which happen surprisingly early in the film, but not surprisingly fast, the film does something that endeared itself greatly to me. While it picks up pace with the story and pushes forward, it never really goes too fast, and I felt that same considered, slower pace that was in these opening sequences, carried throughout the film.
It does take its time to create the tension and set the scene, and concentrates on characters and relationships a bit more than you might expect from a film like this. I'd say that's down to the nature of the film, that it's about the characters being stripped of their humanity and being isolated, fighting for survival.
Don't get me wrong there though, it's not some masterpiece of writing, there are some clichéd moments that the film falls onto, but I was more forgiving of them than the others who saw the film. Let me have a quick look at a couple of the bigger moments that were discussed as clichéd.
People you expect to die, and not to die, do and don't. Well that's not really a great surprise when you think that everyone is out to kill each other apart from those who haven't been infected yet, and that most Hollywood horror films are in a similar boat for not surprising you this way. Still, I think there are a few surprises here and there and the horror in The Crazies is about seeing the deaths.
One death in particular was an issue, quite late on in the film too. Yet I would argue this one and say there was huge ambiguity in the scene. Did the character have a bloody nose from just being punched or from having the disease? Were they behaving strangely from the situation they were in or were they infected? My mind preferred to linger on these ambiguities while my friend took it on face value and registered on the cliché aspect.
Another scene sees a character knocked over and the gun they were holding just slip out of reach, a classic cliché, and yet it's what follows next that adds something new and pretty horrifying to it. Again there may be a cliché feeling to it, but there's something more delivered from it.
Then there's the car wash scene which I found to be very clever. While my friend thought it was a typical film move to drive into it, I found what happened next to overshadow the initial cliché and totally drown it out. Some great surprises and unusual moments that really do pay off well.
Finally there's the ending. In the entire series of sequences that constitute the ending, there are a few places where you think the film might actually end, and I actually enjoyed the suggestion of what was to happen next rather than cutting the film off any earlier. My friend though, once again thought it might be a clichéd ending, and in a way I agree.
I found the ending strong, probably close to what would happen in real life, and it delivered a great build up of pace to a couple of good plot delivery moments. Sure, it could have been cut earlier to add some mystery to the ending, but I really like the way it completes and ties up with the beginning. Still, there's the question of that walking away scene. I'll leave that to debate once you've seen the film.
One question that did leave me wondering and at a loss, I wonder what was the deal with the scene of the water bottle and drinking from the glass in the shopping centre was all about? Perhaps you have some suggestions on that.
Sure there are clichés in the film, I mean aren't there in all Hollywood horror films, indeed most Hollywood films. However what The Crazies does differently is that it delivers something more after these clichéd moments, and let me say there aren't that many of them either, and these moments afterwards are the stronger and more entertaining than the cliché that delivers them.
A strong aspect of the film is that it never tries to over explain itself, and like the original (as far as I remember) and real life, people make judgements, events are accepted, and actions are assumed and adopted. We wouldn't sit around and debate the finer points of everything that's happening, we would get on with living, and surviving, as these characters do.
It's the classic question of the bad guy explaining his plot to the good guy, knowing that in a twenty minutes or so he'll free himself from the elaborate trap and kill them all. In real life the bad guy would interrogate the good guy and then just kill him.
There are other people complaining about the performances, something I don't agree with at all, all three leads perform well and at times deliver performances that can be really terrifying, Rhada Mitchell in particular with Timothy Olyphant and Joe Anderson keeping up well.
The film itself is well shot and looked high value and slick, with some great open shots during the out of town scenes, and at the beginning of the film. These shots were well framed and seemed well thought through, giving a greater look to the film than the average horror.
One more thing to mention is the way that it gives the feeling of constantly being monitored and controlled, there are references throughout the film that work well and build that up, continually bringing you back to it. I really liked that, and with the soldiers in masks and outfits at all times it gave an eerie, detached, almost alien feel to those “in charge”.
However I'm not sure that the moment they unmask a soldier was the right thing to do in the script. It broke that feeling by humanising them, although the feeling did return very quickly. It felt a little out of sorts with how they were trying to portray the authorities, but then it, and a later scene with an FBI agent, hold their own place.
While some are saying they didn't enjoy it for various reasons, I disagree. I found The Crazies to be enjoyable and very effective in building tension and delivering some powerful and scary moments. It's a good film, and I think far better than the original, and definitely not deserving of the negative commentary.
The performances are strong, the direction and cinematography is good, at times really good, and the story delivers some great moments. I'm sure the ending will be debated for some time, but it's a strong thriller-horror that is one of the few remakes that has turned out better than the original, an original that was well thought of to begin with.