The Crazies Review: A Jolt to the Gut, Brain, Country (B+)

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As I hinted above, it’s the speed at which all this happens that left me wide-eyed. And the real horror is how quickly a sunny day in the suburbs can turn into a scene of merciless martial law that we would typically associate only with the era of the Iron Curtain. (More at Techland: Flipping through the Crazies comic books)

This is complete and utter anarchy with every person out for himself, as the idealistic American dream gives way in real-time to the darker impulse of self-preservation. And Romero (serving here as executive producer) is no doubt proud of the ways in which this telling emphasizes the dispassionate disconnect between government and populace. His Crazies was partially about government as both savior and devil. But Breck Eisner clearly sees something far less balanced in this era of pre-emptive wars and Wall Street bailouts. The halls of government don’t lead to Main Street any more; if Main Street was ever wiped off the face of the planet, surely the corporation contributions would keep trickling in.

There’s a definitive moment here, in which David, his wife and his deputy are all speeding down a highway to safety, where we begin to comprehend that the government is every bit as dangerous as the infected/zombie-types. There’s a close encounter, where David fights and claws his way to escape from the crazies, only to realize that waiting around the next corner is a military missile with his name on it. When the going gets tough, it would appear, the government’s priority is only to restore order. If that means cracking a few eggs, then that’s the collateral damage they deem acceptable. (More at Techland: Percy Jackson and the all-time best child superheroes)

The marketing has made this movie look like a bloodbath, and there’s plenty of gore to go around. But even the violent scenes refuse to play out in the way one might expect. A woman stands in a barn, in front of the swirling blades of a combine near midnight, and I was positive that we were about to see a body torn to shreds. Similarly, that guy with the shotgun in the baseball stadium (who we’ve seen in all the ads) doesn’t wreak the sort of havoc we initially expect. Eisner has something far more insidious up his sleeves, and he knows it; He doesn’t go for the routine shock tactics, and the film’s smarter as a result. Combine his respect for the audience with his insistence that the story move at a sprinter’s pace, and I found myself lagging behind for a change. I was trying to catch up, to understand what was happening to these infecteds, why the government showed up, what the fallout of the rebellion might be, and whether or not our heroes might also just be the film’s biggest villains. As they try to get around the barricades, could they in fact be spreading this disease further? Through the very last shot, the implications grow wider.

The Crazies is universally ugly. Ugly zombies kill people in ugly ways, while the healthy people resort to ugly tactics in hopes of evading a military behaving in the ugliest fashion fathomable. It’s terrifying any way you look at it, but impossible to dismiss. Post-Katrina, post-Great Recession, our love-hate relationship with the government has skewed towards the latter. There are a lot of people who feel like we’ve entered an era of every man for himself, and The Crazies is a horror film made about – and for – them. It takes our worst fears about modern America and runs with them, right to the brink.

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