The Crazies an insanely fresh twist in horror genre

Film ReviewThe Crazies★★★

Existing within genre trappings while also complying with modern horror standards of shock and schlock, Breck Eisner's The Crazies manages to set itself apart from its abysmal peers that generally inhabit the studio dumping ground that is the year's first quarter.

It is by no means exceptional or singular in its imagination, but The Crazies wields a weapon all too uncommon in the contemporary influx of torture porn and gimmicky thrills: respect for its audience's intelligence.

Set in a blue-collar farming town in Iowa (with roughly the same population as Geneseo sans students, for uncomfortable familiarity), the plot centers on David and Judy Dutton, a young couple whose positions as sheriff and doctor naturally place them at the top of the class spectrum in an otherwise humble, traditionalist community. The residents all appear to be proud National Rifle Association boosters, so even when an older man interrupts a baseball game by walking onto the field with a shotgun, people aren't that surprised by it.

When hunters discover a crashed airplane in the river, however, the locals start asking questions. It turns out that it was a government plane and was carrying an undisclosed chemical to Texas for testing, and (whoops!) the town's entire water supply has now been infected.

Eisner's film retains the same basic scenario of George Romero's original on which it's based, so even considering increased HIV and H1N1 paranoia, the social commentary isn't especially fresh. The ruthless measures taken by the government to contain the virus are only mildly surprising, but Eisner and his team of screenwriters mine their best scares from action sequences between inhabitants.

In one of the earliest scenes of true terror, David visits the coroner's to check on one of the recently deceased locals. Eisner stages an especially clever set piece involving an electrical surgical blade that is at once frightening and risibly amusing, managing to provoke the audience despite generally lowered stakes for a clear-cut protagonist early in horror films.

Although The Crazies tends to lull a bit between its scares, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell provide the foundation of the film as the couple at its center. The fact that one doesn't have to yell at them repeatedly not do something stupid is refreshing in itself, but what's more, they're actually believable enough to be worth caring about.

Disney Channel graduate Danielle Panabaker is annoyingly one-dimensional (that dimension being a propensity to scream at everything) in her supporting role, but thankfully never becomes the film's focus.

While the movie never transgresses far enough to earn a cult following, or even be considered one of the better horror films of recent years, it is nonetheless superior to many of its contemporaries, which, these days, is no small feat.