“THE CRAZIES” IS A SUSPENSEFUL AND TOTALLY NUTTY THRILLER

When I first saw the trailers for “The Crazies,” I thought it was a film well worth avoiding at all costs. But my daughter is a horror-movie fan, and so the two of us went to see it together. Much to my amazement, the film was both entertaining and frightening despite a highly improbable ending.

“The Crazies” is actually a remake of the 1973 film of the same name directed by George A. Romero (“Night of the Living Dead”). Although I didn’t see the original, I can’t imagine that it could have been any better than the updated version, which definitely will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The film is set in the fictional town of Ogden Ash, Iowa, a lazy little farming town, where everybody knows everybody else, and the big event of the day is a high school baseball game. As the film opens, a baseball game is under way, and most of the townspeople are there, including Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson).

Everything seems completely normal until suddenly a man walks into centerfield carrying a shotgun. The fellow happens to be the town drunk, but most of the time he’s harmless. When David confronts him and tells him to drop the gun, however, the guy raises the rifle, and David has no choice but to kill him.

From this point on, normal people in the town suddenly begin exhibiting aberrant behavior for no apparent reason. I won’t spoil the story by saying what is causing this phenomenon, but there definitely is an explanation that turns the entire town into a living hell and endangers the lives of all the citizens, including David and his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), who is the town doctor.

What makes “The Crazies” an effective thriller is that it creates and sustains a high level of suspense and mystery from the outset. The first question facing the viewer is what is making regular people lose their minds, and when we learn the answer to that one, we are left to wonder how or whether the few sane people left will escape.

The film also contains numerous scenes that are as intense as any you will see on the big screen. One of these occurs in an autopsy room, and I actually found myself squirming in my seat in an attempt to help David escape from an unspeakable predicament. And just when you think you can catch your breath, something else occurs to turn the tension up another notch. This is not a film for the faint of heart, but it packs plenty of white-knuckle power if you can stand it.

Another thing to keep in mind as you watch this movie is that the setting plays a very important part, and director Breck Eisner (“Thoughtcrimes”) explained in the film’s production notes why this concept appealed to him.

“One of the things I love about this movie is that it takes place in the heartland of America. It is these vast open spaces, these wheat fields and corn fields that go on for miles and miles, these endless plateaus of nothingness that create an epic landscape. There are no trees, no houses, no buildings. You can walk down a road with visibility for thirty miles in every direction and that alone limits your options; there is nowhere to hide. Our characters need to avoid the military, the Crazies, and the disease itself as they travel this open and exposed landscape, a landscape that evolves from beautiful to terrifying.”

Also in the production notes, Olyphant discussed what drew him to the film.

“The script was fantastic. It was entertaining from the first minute. First I thought, ‘Oh, this is fun,’ and then it stayed with me for days. And I loved the title. If you watch the trailer for the original, they keep repeating it: ‘The Crazies! The Crazies!’ I just love that title.”

If you are in the mood for an above-average thriller that should hold your attention from beginning to end, I recommend “The Crazies” (Give it a score of 7.5). It’s exciting, tense, and full of surprises. The only thing that I disliked about it was the way the ending really pushed the believability envelope. (And by the way, stay in your seat during the closing credits because there is one final surprise there.) But this one weakness isn’t enough to ruin the film, and there are enough tight spots in it to drive you crazy.

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