Unleashed during the heavily “romance-driven” scheduling block of February, Breck Eisner’s Horror film The Crazies brings a much needed gut-punch to American cinemas. Eisner’s film tracks a sudden and devastating viral outbreak turning normal people of a Midwestern town into raging, pulsating beasts of instinct. A covert government incident pushes the disease into the town’s water supply, destroying conscious, remorse, and sympathy before rendering the body a hollow, wrinkled mess. Predictably, morality and ethics play a role throughout, but Eisner convincingly stages these personal conflicts against striking landscapes of collective anguish. These bloody messes make an impact.
Despite it’s virtuoso ground level set-pieces, The Crazies often guides our gaze toward the eye in the sky, where a lifeless and omniscient intermediary meticulously tracks every move. Eisner’s viscerally exciting, sometimes weighty twin to George Romero’s 1970’s remake slices off some of the original’s biting commentary by cutting to a satellite point-of-view, constantly reminding how the character’s actions and victories are devastatingly moot in the big picture. In most worthy Horror films, the director initiates a visual trash compactor of creeping shadows and blunt audio references to surround the characters, slowly closing in until sacrifice and death are the only options. But Eisner expands the tense scope beyond extreme close-ups and confined spaces, making a desolate prairie and a dank swamp seem just as menacing as a cavernous diner where the film’s gripping finale takes place.
The expectations are so low with modern Horror remakes The Crazies manages to transcend the genre company it keeps by simply having ambition. Retreads of most 1970’s and 80’s Horror films fail miserably to produce any substance amidst the splattering gore and bloody nostalgia, let alone reveal any actual talent behind the lens. But Eisner has a genuine eye for pacing, building certain scenes slowly and intuitively by momentarily subverting expectation, forgetting the overarching narrative to focus on the genre detail in the frame.
There’s a dynamic potency in the aforementioned diner struggle and earlier within a full-throttle scene in a car wash surrounded by daylight emptiness. Circumstance and consequence become enhanced by the specifics – the way Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) painfully pulls a knife from his hand, watching as an infected victim dies before his eyes, or when a small boat rests atop a sunken airplane in the middle of hallowed river. The stark images go beyond the surface and reference some stark ideas, making The Crazies somewhat memorable, even if it’s not consistently original in the end.