Directed by George A. Romero
George A. Romero has something notable in common with Bob Dylan: both are better at conceiving potent ideas that astutely reflect the cultural climate of the time than they are at realizing those ideas in an aesthetically impressive manner.
This makes for material often more easily enjoyable in the hands of another artist, and the 2010 version of The Crazies is no exception. What that slick iteration missed, though, was the multifaceted perspective of Romero's bold but messy original. Rare is the horror film that gives such equal consideration to all sides of an issue.
Skipping any tension-building foreplay, The Crazies introduces its central threat of random behavioural outbursts taking violent form, then briefly visits a firefighter and his pregnant girlfriend having an intimate moment and jumps to the perspective of the US military setting up a quarantine around the small rural town of Evans City, Pennsylvania.
It's clear that Romero is more concerned with taking a look at the politics of repression than he is in engineering thrills. To that end, The Crazies is a fascinating experiment in form for its genre.
Each set of characters has a limited level of knowledge about the cause and scope of an infection that makes its victims do things like, commit random acts of aggression, binge eat and, in one lady's case, sweep a grassy field in the middle of a mini war zone. From the everyman firefighter just trying to preserve his genetic code to the government workers just doing their jobs (occasionally looting corpses before incinerating them out of a pragmatic sense of entitlement) to the head of the military containment operation, Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar), just following orders from his faceless superior, everyone is depicted as a disposable cog in the inexorable and hopelessly myopic machinery of bureaucracy.
Since any display of irrational behaviour is a potential sign of infection, contrary opinions and acts of stress-induced frustration are frequently construed as indicators of imminent deadly aberration, creating an effective sense of distrust and unease within the military and civilian factions who are solely focused on their own self-interest.
With the volume of thought-provoking ideas Romero crams in, it's a shame the film's basic entertainment value is hampered by a miniscule budget, substandard acting, spastic editing and gunplay that looks about as gory as a game of community paintball.
The Crazies screens at 9pm on November 1st, 2012 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the George A. Romero retrospective. On October 31st, 2012 at 7pm, there's also an "In Conversation" session at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with the legendary director himself.
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