Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Crazies

| by Allan Stackhouse |

I've never seen the 1973 The Crazies so I cannot speak of it. Normally, I would absolutely detest the idea of a modern day remake of a classic horror. In this case, no one seemed to care or had even heard of the original. This was of no further consequence considering that The Crazies surprised me with its high quality. The trailer certainly looked very good but it didn't get me in theaters, but if you're keeping track, only two movies have managed to get money out of my pocket since the beginning of my time here at Cosmic Toast Studios: Toy Story 3 and Inception. With its recent release to Blu-ray and DVD, the bar for this year's horror roster has been set. Horror movie vets Timothy Olyphant (Scream 2) and Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) lead this frightening tale of what could be our government's response to a horrifying outbreak.

While the movie was not perfect, the cinematography, especially for a horror movie was very good. The majority of the first act's shots were done in long focus. Showing this amount of distance and openness gave me the fear that something was just around the corner waiting to attack. Horror movies too often rely on close ups to convey a sense of confinement. Those are all well and good but the screenwriters and director played on the idea of the scariness of farmland. If you aren't scared of farmland, great. For those of us who are, this adds a layer of fear that's similar to the one found in Jaws.

Watching a pregnant woman in danger is frightening. There's just no getting around the innate fear of a person carrying the unborn life of another being attacked. George Romero, in his horror wisdom, understood this in 1973 and it still holds its power today. Horror violence against anyone doesn't exactly make me comfortable and it definitely doesn't make me comfortable watching a pregnant lady fight for her life. If this was the intention of the director and writer, it was a brilliant tool in scaring the audience and raising the stakes of danger. The role does not rest on its circumstances, however. Judy empowers herself, pregnancy and all, to protect herself, her unborn child, and those around her.

The screenwriter and director completely understand the value of foreshadowing and the power it can have in horror films. After Rory is fatally shot by David, a satellite's view of the town says, “Initiate Containment Protocol.” This informs us that someone is watching and it asks us to make the connection as the appearances of the army become more frequent. David picking up the lighter at the truck stop was also very nice. The scene might have held on him holding the lighter a little too long but it still foreshadowed the handiness of his last minute selection. Some might call it a plot hole but I saw David's potential infection from stabbing one of the crazies with the knife stuck in his hand as a clever ruse from the screenwriters. For those of us that were paying attention and worried for David, he turned out to be fine. There's nothing wrong with a little cinematic bait, especially for someone like me who was taking notes during the film.

The emphasis of visual storytelling and almost complete lack of exposition was so admirable in this film. In an early scene, Judy reaches across the bed. David isn't there. He is working on shaving a piece of wood, a completely monotonous task, to get his mind off of having to shoot and kill somebody. This visually communicates the torment David feels and the concern Judy has for her husband. In this same sequence, another nice use of visual storytelling occurs when Judy passes by a room whose door is open. The crib is empty. She goes down to meet David who puts his hand on her stomach. It might have saved the movie a lot of time to simply cut to Judy exiting the doorway and David saying something about her pregnancy but the results are visual puzzle pieces for us to put together, a form of storytelling that I was not at all expecting out of a horror movie. Perhaps that's not good of me to be stereotyping what horror films lack but it's nonetheless appreciated because it communicates the emotion the characters are feeling in a genre where the default is fear communicated by screaming. In a slightly even more complicated bit of visual storytelling, David's face starts out as clean shaven. Then, throughout the film, it grows and grows. This firstly speaks of stress and then secondly of his obvious inability to groom himself due to killing crazies.

There are classic horror movie moments though. Namely, “You stupid, b-word” moments. The first notable one was when Sandra, alerted by the noise coming from the barn, stands in front of the menacing hay tiller with blades upon blades just feet away from her. I absolutely love these moments because they are the kind at which my dad would angrily yell, “Stupid.” Immediately after Sandra turns off the hay tiller, she drops her flashlight upon hearing her son's yells. Seriously. She just drops it on the ground as if it won't come in handy after hearing someone scream. Even our fair and brave heroine isn't immune to stupidity. After Judy packs, she passes by the nursery and hesitates. She enters and everything is set up for her to have a sentimental moment with the last time she will see this room but in the corner, at the end of the scene, a crazy stands in waiting. We know from her hesitation that Judy shouldn't go in there yet she does. That stupid, b-word.

It wouldn't be a good horror movie if I didn't scream. In a particularly scary scene, David uncovers what is stirring underneath a sheet on a gurney: a man whose mouth has been sewn shut. When David removes the stitches, the man on the gurney utters two frightening words, “Behind you.” Behold the infected coroner who swings at David with a motorized bone saw. I don't want to give all of these moments away but trust me in that there were a few choice moments at which my neighbors probably thought I saw a spider or something with wings.

Rounding up the integral types of scenes are the “F*ck yeah!” moments. Russell, after saving David and Judy, shoots both of the infected on the floor multiple times in the head because he's “making sure.” I, as a zombie movie freak, know the importance of this and it's nice that Russ has this bit of common sense even though he himself is going crazy. A lesser so “F*ck yeah!” moment would definitely be when David rescues Judy from the crazies in the school. He asks her, “Are you okay.” She replies, “No, not really.” Of course she's not but that's an awesome answer. This, besides having already saved her friend, solidified her character for me. While she's not a tough chick, she's got her head on straight and we can tell that she's going to make it to the end of the film.

The unfortunate thing about The Crazies is the pacing. Whereas the movie's conflict is set up swiftly enough, the movie loses steam in the second and third acts. It may have been said in the film that the goal is to escape the area but the result seems to be the main characters walking around aimlessly. Not enough is drawn for me to care about David or Judy other than the fact they survive the longest. The circumstance of Judy's pregnancy successfully did make me fear for her safety but the second and third acts play out so slowly. Scary as they were, I thought there was a lack of connection between the scenes in these particular acts as well. It felt like, “Okay, now they're going to go here and something scary happens. And now, they're going to here and it's going to be even scarier.” That sort of set up is fine when I'm watching the scenes but the result from me watching the parts in between is boredom.

The survival aspect was very similar to 28 Days Later, which I believe was done better than The Crazies. While I did enjoy the film, I don't think a sequel is necessary. You're probably screaming “Saw 3D” at me, which is your right, but unless it's another entity, I'm not entirely interested. 28 Weeks Later was good but essentially the same move as its predecessor. The film had many things that I liked about it but I would have liked the pacing to have been kept at the rate set in the first act. All in all, definitely worth a watch.

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