Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Crazies (2010)

Note: click here for my review of the original version of The Crazies.

Several questions occurred to me while watching The Crazies, Breck Eisner’s remake of George Romero’s 1973 film about a small town ravaged by a military-made biological weapon that sends ordinary people into a violent frenzy. Namely: where are the crazed geriatrics stabbing soldiers with knitting needles? Where are the loony ladies wielding brooms whilst running through dew-kissed meadows? And most importantly, where’s the incest? Damn it— where’s the love?

Eisner’s remake of Romero’s messy, unhinged original sticks mostly to a bland, tasteful competence: more money, more talent, and yet so much less personality. In the place of Romero’s frenzied satire we get a lot of look-behind-you moments, remarkable only for the fact that Eisner seems to take such hoary tropes seriously. Is there anything quite as absurd as an actress awkwardly craning her neck to avoid noticing the deadly threat right beside her? The pounding noise on the soundtrack that accompanies the scene is the only way of jolting audiences used to such an old gag, but even then the whole tired set-up is more ridiculous than frightening. With only the slightest nudge towards self-consciousness, this might have made a fine comedy.

Sadly, the caustic humour of Romero’s film is almost entirely absent here, save for a glimmer of irreverence in the film’s use of Willie Nelson singing “Bring Me Sunshine” over the closing credits. Not to say the original was a masterpiece, but at least it possessed brazen energy and a kamikaze wit. Its self-immolating style—the film itself seemed to be collapsing faster than the world it portrayed—was a perfect fit with its depiction of social order crumbling into violence and depravity. And even if the acting was amateurish, at least the characters were sharply drawn. The lunatics were genuinely bizarre (rather than the dull parade of thugs the remake gives us), while even anonymous soldiers were distinguished with little personal details. Despite having greater resources for building a more vivid world, Eisner’s film feels comparatively drained of colour.

All of the subtext and idiosyncrasies of the original have been shaken off like dead weight. Why then does this film feel so leaden and heavy footed? In the original, the hero David and his sidekick Clank were both ex-military, which accounted for the tense and complicated dynamic between the two. In the remake, the hero David and his sidekick Russell are simply sheriff and deputy, and that’s all there is to know. The relationship follows the same pattern in both films—sidekick grows increasingly violent and unstable, hero is uncertain if his partner is infected or not—but the remake removes any back-story that might have made this progression meaningful.

Everything is recognizable, only now devoid of consequence. The original was stirred by the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings: chilling reminders that the military serves the interests of political elites, not the public good. It had something to say, a reason for its madness. Unfortunately, Eisner really has no comparative viewpoint to energize this hollow film. He whitewashes the original’s incendiary vision, or more accurately, plasters over it with a healthy coating of red corn syrup.

This is a prime example of cinematic gentrification. The original was pure ghetto—shoddily made, dangerous, fun for only the most dysfunctional of families—and its distinctive character naturally attracted a more upscale demographic. But whereas Romero’s film had a purpose and a passion to justify its existence, the remake lives only to gut its source material. Everything subversive and transgressive in the original gets pushed out for the sake of increased production values, all aimed at satisfying the demands of an audience that wants to be scared and surprised only if it is done in the safest, most predictable way possible. All of the original charm of the neighbourhood gets destroyed in the process. Such is the progression from no-budget to low-budget, though I suspect this is the end of the line for this story. Who, after watching Eisner’s dull film, could possibly be inspired to remake it?

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