Saturday, June 5, 2010

Maggie 2010: Maggie Likes Things, Too! Part 2 of 4

#74. The Crazies (2010)

I've been really cranky about a lot of horror films as of late, but a lot of that crankiness has to do with having seen The Crazies remake, despite my initial protestation of the title on principle (perpetuation of a negative stereotype against people who have mental health issues, etc etc). This 2010 remake of a 1973 George A. Romero flick is an elegant testament to what can be achieved with a little foreknowledge of what has consistently made for great horror throughout history, and it sets the bar exceptionally high for other contemporary horror in turn.

As Breck Eisner's upcoming film list amply indicates, he has a love-on for the classics--seeking, by my last IMDB count, to update other cultural icons like Flash Gordon, Cronenberg's The Brood, and Escape from New York. Certainly those films will all have to be judged on their own merits, and a healthy measure of skepticism about any remake is always welcome, but if Eisner approaches them with the same love and respect for their genres as he showed with The Crazies, I'd say we have some superb nostalgia in store in a few years' time.

On its surface, The Crazies follows the simple premise of all successful zombie/zombie-like manifestation films: A small town of well-meaning folk are afflicted by a disturbing breach of normal life, which they try to write off as fluke happenstance before realizing it's already too late. Before they know it, loved ones are turning left right and centre into inhuman monsters, and--bam!--the government gets involved just in time to make even more of a mess of things. A plucky gang of survivors struggles to make it out of a dead zone in time.

But the devil truly is in the details--and what a pleasure of a devil this one is! Eisner is a master both of cinematic tribute and subtle misdirection, which is why some of the greatest scenes in this film are scenes of classic suspense, not horror. He's helped in great part by excellent acting by Timothy Olyphant, who plays town sheriff David Dutton quite comfortably, etching out for the audience long-standing reliances and relationships with behaviour patterns as much as with speech. Wife Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) also thankfully does not overact, though the peril she's placed in by the government because of an unrelated condition certainly could merit it. But the best thing about the acting, truly, is that it's equally strong regardless of whether the character is part of the "core four" or someone to be sacrificed early on. This makes every step on the journey a sheer intellectual and visual thrill. Added to some truly superb cinematography, and the intelligent pacing and script-writing of the whole, and you've got yourself a modern classic--a film that lifts heavily from its predecessors but stops along the way to revitalize them, to make their psychological crises somehow new.

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