Nihilistic to the very last shot, The Crazies still manages to deliver an adrenaline-packed jolt of good old-fashioned, if not somewhat obscure, terror. Based on a 1973 George A. Romero shocker, this slick, efficient and highly effective remake matches the original's level of mayhem and often exceeds it, helped by a vastly larger budget, tighter script and another three decades of screen scare tactics to build on.
This time, the action shifts from Romero's cherished hilly western Pennsylvania to pancake-flat Iowa, where the sleepy hamlet of Ogden Marsh gets a very nasty wake-up call. After a government plane crashes in the local lake, the townsfolk quickly show symptoms of a weird infection, leading to extremely violent outbursts, insanity or death. It turns out the water supply has been contaminated with an experimental bio-chemical weapon, and waves of hazmat-suited CDC agents and Army troops swoop in to surround the town, squeezing off any hope of escape. Stuck in the middle of such chaos is sturdy Sheriff Dave (Olyphant) and his clever wife Judy (Mitchell), who struggle to stay alive and to find some way out of this insane nightmare scenario.
While it's old hat in the wake of 28 Days Later, the whole viral "fast zombie" angle was fresh back then, as was the "fight the power" social commentary. The original Crazies landed in the sweet spot near the end of the Vietnam War and the first inklings of Watergate, when distrust of the government and military was at an understandably outraged high. This Crazies updates the political satire, replacing it with today's all-purpose defeatism and mass destruction anxiety, though it's never as mopey or dopey as the recent spate of big-screen apocalypses (looking at you, 2012). The doomed characters here are all caught up in paranoia, fear and cynical, mercenary self-interest, a heavy metaphoric payload for a horror flick, but director Breck Eisner (son of ex-Disney mogul Michael), has a keen sense of pacing, a steady hand with actors, and a knack for staging set pieces for max impact. Sure we've seen killer power tools and pitchfork stabbings before, but the murder-by-car-wash scene is a new wrinkle. I'm not sure what's behind Hollywood's impulse to see the placid heartland utterly destroyed, but, in this case at least, doomsday's a blast.