In Hollywood, Breck Eisner has a lot to answer for. He was the man responsible for Sahara, one of the industry’s biggest financial flops of the last decade. It was the kind of movie that could potentially bury a director’s career, being, as it was, both completely rubbish and a fiscal disaster. In Eisner’s case, however, it seems only to have relegated him to the ‘B-movie’ list. This, perhaps, is no bad thing: The Crazies, a remake of horror-auteur George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, is exactly the kind of mid-budget production upon which Eisner can begin to rebuild a tarnished reputation, and that is exactly what this film should do for him.
Set in a pastoral, idyllic American midwest, the film opens with Johnny Cash twanging over images of expansive ploughed fields, ruddy farmers and two story homes. We are in agricultural, small town America; a whistle-stop that prides itself on its friendly sense of community and love-thy-neighbour morality. In Ogden Marsh, everybody knows your name. It is when these values collapse in on themselves with the outbreak of the mysterious ‘trixie’ virus that the film’s terror starts. Without giving too much away, the basic premise is that this virus turns those exposed into violent sociopaths, from whom not even their families are safe. Cue widespread panic and the disintegration of American family values.
We follow the plight of local sheriff David Dutton, played by Timothy Olyphant (Go; The Girl Next Door). Olyphant has played this role before, albeit a century and a half earlier, in HBO’s acclaimed frontier drama Deadwood, as the show’s moral touchstone Seth Bullock. While he was not the program's stand out actor - that honour goes to Ian McShane for his burlesque saloon operator, Al Swearengen - Olyphant turned in some good performances, giving this film’s character some antecedents of success. And this is important: if we are to invest ourselves in the film we have to be aligned with Dutton and his group of survivors (wife Judy, her assistant Becca and deputy sheriff Russell Clank), with their subscription to a loose, local sense of law and order in the fight for survival, as part of the movie’s sense of claustrophobia and impending doom relies on the bipartite threat of crazed townspeople and the equally menacing government shock troops. The local lawmen and their protectorate are our only hope of sanity.
This is very much a genre movie, and Eisner seems to be well aware of this. His camera sways, lurches and jerks around Ogden Marsh’s streets, constantly readjusting and reframing to evoke a sense of anxiety and at times slight nausea. This stylistic device is a horror movie trope, but is used to good effect here. There are also moments of black humour present: ‘did we or did we not request a transfer for him this morning,’ Dutton deadpans after a now crazed detainee snatches at him and Deputy Clank from behind cell bars. And any film that can properly capture the innate terror of the mechanical car-wash is alright by me.
Ultimately, this film is limited, it is fairly aware of those limitations, but that does not mean they are not present. It is good fun though, and quite a lot better than your usual Hollywood gore-fest. Eisner has made what should hopefully be recieved as a reputable picture, and go someway to erasing the blot on his resume that was Sahara.