starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker
screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright
directed by Breck Eisner
by Walter Chaw A military plane transporting a biological agent designed to destabilize civilian populations is headed for incineration when it crash-lands in tiny Ogden Marsh, IA, causing a few of the local yokels to start acting on all the urges that the veneer of civilization holds in check. A father kills his wife and son, a school principal dispatches a few of his students, a coroner begins stitching up the living, and Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant, good as sheriffs) is left to consider that for as naughty as these actions are, they're not so out of character for the people he protects. (It takes a while for him to deadpan that they might be in a little bit of trouble.) The Crazies plays with the thought that there's not only not much of a line separating acceptable behaviour from homicidal, there's also not much of a line between the infected townspeople and the military choppered in to contain them. In a good film's best moment, Dutton and his deputy capture a young soldier (Joe Reegan) and allow him a few minutes to be afraid and to enact a moment of grace that, if you think about it later, facilitates the complete destruction of another, larger urban population. A lot like the mordant epilogue of the also-fantastic 28 Weeks Later (another film that deals with the problem of occupation armies and the suppression of insurgencies), the ultimate source of trouble here is the heroic, quintessentially American desire to survive no matter the cost to the greater good.
Look to another great scene where we witness the best hand-trauma since Blood Simple, paid off as a little bit of the old ultra-violence is visited upon a baddie who maybe didn't entirely deserve the fate afforded her. As she dies, we can't help but remember her speech early on excoriating Dutton for making unfair, ruinous assumptions about her dead husband and marvel at the film's remarkable comfort with ambiguity. There are no villains in The Crazies, only a vacuum where a comfortable idea of order used to be and an invitation to consider the ramifications of a quiet moment late in the picture with the sheriff pledging his undying devotion to pregnant wife Judy (Radha Mitchell) in a deserted truck stop. Death and despair perpetuate because we insist upon life--and meanwhile, dark ruminations aside, The Crazies delivers the goods with clockwork precision. In its efficiency, pervasive sense of melancholic doom, and Mark Isham's Tangerine Dream-like score, I was reminded of Steve De Jarnatt's underestimated apocalyptic love story Miracle Mile. Even the discovery of the source of the contamination, a throwaway moment in a lesser film as Dutton's skiff glides to a stop atop the outline of a giant, submerged military transport vehicle, is executed with cool elegance.
The menace in The Crazies is woven in this way into its visual fabric, bubbling up from below and crashing down from above in numerous shots of Iowan skies so grey and infinite that they gain the texture of an ocean pressing in on this American Gothic. Alexandre Aja's favourite DP Maxime Alexandre's cinematography suggests a cosmic vice closing slow from first frame to last, a visual demonstration that the best kind of nihilism is spiced with Sartre's black existential irony. The Crazies is a prime example of a picture that has a lot to say about who we are at a specific moment in our cultural development. It talks of London Bridges falling down in the very middle of how we define ourselves as a nation, and it's very possibly the first hint of what the best films this year will be about. It's a lot better than it had to be. Originally published: March 5, 2010.