Monday, March 1, 2010

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: The Crazies (2010) (Part One)


One thing you can say about The Crazies (2010), it isn't trying to hide the fact that we've already seen our world at the brink of its own destruction many times over. It's also not particularly concerned with presenting a cautionary tale on how to avoid such a catastrophe. While there is definitely a running commentary rampant throughout the narrative, it's the same message we've been getting from many zombie films over the past decade. Films such as Danny Boyle's 28 Days (2002) and the grisly follow-up 28 Weeks Later (2007) both gave us a glimpse at military and government incidents which damn near brought the entire world to its knees. The politics at play have been dealt with more aptly in some of George A. Romero's earlier works from the late 60s and 70s (one of which this is a remake of) and in some of the apocalyptic thrillers churned out during the Bush administration. But once the tired (but timely) message is loose, the politics of the human spirit prove to be far more engrossing and this is where The Crazies finds its legs.

What director Breck Eisner does wonderfully is give us two leads in which we can find our own solace. Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) and Dr. Judy Dutton (Radha Mitchell) are running for their lives. They're not trying to save the world, they're merely trying to endure it. They are fighting tooth and nail to survive not just from their friends and neighbors who have all gone stark raving mad but they're struggling to get rescued in cinemas where their story has been told a hundred times before. They may be archetypes and the film itself may be far from original (it is a remake of a film in a tired genre after all) but there is a heart at its core. It's been a while since we've been given a horror film with characters who we hope will persevere.

As the virus turns the town upside down, paranoia begins to settle in. Craziness becomes relative; while the townspeople parade around (essentially foaming at the mouth), they carry a disturbingly tranquil demeanor. No one embodies this better than the Sheriff's Deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) who's growing paranoid delusions have him riding a blurred line between hero and psychopath. Clank has trouble grasping the insanity around him and Anderson's performance is surprisingly layered allowing us to instantaneously sympathize with him. Yet, we also fear his every move. Clank might not be affected by this outbreak but he's most certainly been affected, and he could snap at any moment. The film houses a handful of frightening sequences which rely on little more than David and Judy trying to cope with and prevent Russell from cracking while searching for an escape from their hellbent landscape.

Even with the built up fear that anyone could be dangerous given the circumstance, we see people willing to sacrifice and placing themselves in harm's way for their fellow man. Moments like these are spread throughout the film. There are instances where characters, thankfully not treated as disposable extras, selflessly put themselves in peril so that others may survive. It's refreshing to see compassion towards the flesh and blood of a story, especially in a genre which has become too transfixed on how to dispose of characters rather than how to build upon them.

Towards the end of the film, David and Judy sit calmly in a truck-stop restaurant holding hands. They're weak, bitter, and broken. As David softly caresses her hand he puts an offer on the table. He gives her the choice to keep running or sit quietly at their table and accept defeat. It's a beautifully delicate moment of clarity in a world of chaos. Part of me wishes they'd stayed at this table, holding hands, listening to the countdown over the radio. Ulitmately, they watch the sky turn white as the bomb erases the military's error. It's a fitting end to an era filled to the brim with post-apocalyptic zombie films saturating the market, but it's not a fate these characters deserve. (Of course, they get up and keep running.) Though it's arguably a far less compelling (and ultimately more predictable) outcome, part of me is glad they did. The Crazies may not be the most original film of its ilk, but it's far from the canon fodder we've come to expect from films like it.

-- Andrew Dupuis is a devoted cinephile and graduate of Brock University's Film Studies program with an extensive background in Canadian and popular cinema. He is currently working on his first book.

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