“The Crazies” suffers from too much ambition and no follow-through. However, despite some unnecessary plot complications, it delivers solid scares.
The film opens well with a nicely constructed scene involving a shotgun wielding man interrupting the first baseball game of the spring in Ogden Marsh, a sleepy farm town in Iowa.
David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant), Ogden Marsh’s sheriff, shoots the man before he can hurt anyone and chalks his odd and violent behavior up to a bender. The guy was the town drunk after all. Dutton grows suspicious when the man’s wife angrily assures him that Hamill had been on the wagon for two years. Dutton’s suspicions are confirmed when more of Ogden Marsh’s once kind citizens begin acting out in a very violent fashion.
The plot builds well, hitting all the appropriate foreboding notes. The film develops two solid, central easy-to-root-for characters. The first is stalwart Sheriff Dutton. The other is his beautiful wife Judy, who is smart and newly pregnant, and is also the town doctor.
Starring:Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
About halfway through, "The Crazies" is moving along at a nice clip, seemingly happy to be a solid zombie film, when it introduces another malevolent force — the U.S. Government. Apparently what’s been causing the citizens’ violent behavior is exposure to an experimental and top secret bio-weapon. Worried about an epidemic, or even worse, bad press, the government decides to contain the situation by wiping the entire town off the map.
This plot switch would not have been a problem if it hadn’t derailed the movie that was doing a perfectly fine job of being entertaining. While "The Crazies" does manage to get moving again, it sacrifices momentum on this twist.
And this is were ambition comes in. The introduction of the military suggests the film is going to try and be more than just a zombie film. However, the military becomes merely another nameless, faceless boogeyman. Instead of raising the stakes, it just makes for a disjointed film; it’s like the screenplay was cobbled together from two separate story ideas. "The Crazies" tries to be more than just another zombie movie, but then doesn’t do the work to get there.
Despite its shortcomings, "The Crazies" has a few redeeming qualities.
Timothy Olyphant is great. Olyphant is typically a character actor, and it’s nice to see him take on a traditional hero role. He brings an intensity to the film that makes his character more interesting and invests the role with a physicality that serves the action scenes well. Olyphant is well supported by Radha Mitchell and Joe Anderson as Russell, Dutton’s loyal deputy.
“The Crazies” contains all of the jump scares that you would expect from a genre film. However, director Breck Eisner punctuated most of the scares with nice bits of action. Eisner has a real feel for set pieces. The high point of the film is when the small group of survivors is attacked by some of the infected townspeople in a car wash. The scene is genuinely scary and ends with a creatively constructed bit of violence.
"The Crazies" is a solid genre film. While it makes superficial attempts to be more than just typical zombie horror, the effort doesn’t match the film’s ambition. Despite that, "The Crazies" has its moments and compared to the recent slate of horror films, is high art. If you are looking for a few scares this Friday or Saturday night, "The Crazies" does the job.