Ogden Marsh, Iowa, is about as metropolitan as it sounds. It's a podunk town in the middle of a podunk state.
Side note: I hate Iowa. Nothing good is in Iowa, it's just empty space between wherever I am and where I might want to go. If I could remove a state from the US map and fill the empty space with some sort of travel tube technology, a la The Jetsons, I would in a heartbeat. A close second place in that competition goes to Indiana. End side note.It looks peaceful enough and there are no signs of any trouble; even the local law, Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), are enjoying a high school baseball game when something strange happens. Rory, a local resident, quietly walks onto the outfield, holding a shotgun. Sheriff Dutton hurries out to talk to Rory, assuming that the man has had a relapse with his alcoholism. Rory does not respond to Dutton's conversation, sporting a far-away look in his eyes and making no movement until he draws his gun on the Sheriff. Dutton is faster on the draw, and shoots Rory dead. Sheriff Dutton's wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), is the town doctor; a local woman brought her husband by that day to be examined for having a far-off look and a failure to respond to others. The day after Rory was killed, that man locked his wife and child in their home and burned them alive. When emergency vehicles responded to the fire, they found him a safe distance away, with a far-off look, humming a song.
That's some weird stuff, man. What's weirder is that the first man lived in the house furthest to the north, and the second man lived next door to him...and the guy who lives in the next house has been acting kind of funny. When a pilot's body is found in the local swamp, Sheriff Dutton recalls the town liar claiming that he saw a plane crash in the area. Dutton and Clark head to the swamp and discover a large cargo plane submerged in the water, which is also the water supply for Ogden Marsh. And the water is supplied throughout the town, north to south. Hmm. You know, there have been no news stories about a plane crash or missing planes or pilots in the area...probably not a good sign for the citizens of Ogden Marsh.
Whoa, I'm psychic. The next thing you know, dozens of troops and workers, armed and wearing hazmat suits, descend on the town. They tell the townsfolk nothing, they just separate the town into a group that is running fevers and a group that is not. The fevered folk (including Doctor Judy Dutton) are taken into a tented area, and the others (including Sheriff Dutton) are bused to a truck stop out of town, where they will presumably be regrouped and relocated. I don't know what kind of a person you are, but Sheriff Dutton loves his wife enough to go back and help her escape treatment for what appears to be a virus that makes people homicidal. That's love, people. It's also stupid, but that's what love is sometimes. Of course, what's the next step after saving Judy? There are still troops trying to contain this whatever-it-is, and they are willing to use lethal force. Where do they go? Who do they trust? And how do they know that they're not sick, too? In order, the answers are somewhere else, their friends, and um.
This may start out as a bit of a mystery movie, but it quickly becomes one of survival. Most survival movies involve a horrific accident or outbreak, like a plane crash or a zombie uprising; The Crazies is certainly more subtle than that, but that is part of this film's charm. As a viewer, you know, because you saw the previews or looked at the movie poster, that something bad is going to happen, but there really isn't much of a reason for the townsfolk to. This isn't one of those stupid horror movies where the lead actress has her late boyfriend's blood all over her clothes and is crying in the dark, "Is anybody there?" There isn't even a dam bursting of horror in this movie; the government intervenes before the infected start to attack the rest of the town en masse.
For that reason, this could also be seen as a political fairytale; the government that failed to act decisively with Katrina and the BP oil spill are able to contain an town-wide epidemic before anything truly horrific happens to draw attention to the town? Man, I have seen some dark humor before, but this is just vicious!
The acting and directing in this movie are appropriate, but nothing spectacular. Director Breck Eisner does a good job with the movie's pacing and manages to put together a pretty suspenseful film. I thought the action sequences were good, too; I just got stitches in my hand from a knife cut, so when one of the characters gets a big knife thrust through his hand...well, that got to me. Timothy Olyphant has played strong Sheriffs in the past, and he turns in another solid performance here. His actions seem reasonable (except breaking his wife out of the quarantined area) and he is sympathetic. He's not infallible, which leads him into some trouble, but I never felt that he was acting stupid, which is a huge plus in a movie like this. Radha Mitchell was fine as his wife, but I'm tired of her playing a "woman on the brink" of something; seriously, I've seen her in Man On Fire, Finding Neverland, Silent Hill and now this. Can't she play a happy person? I liked Joe Anderson as the Deputy; it wasn't a complex role, but I thought he did a good job with what he had to work with. Danielle Panabaker has a small role that requires her to scream and look moderately attractive. That might not sound difficult, but that's because it's not.
I really enjoyed this movie. Maybe I just wasn't expecting much, but I was definitely pleased with what I saw. Any movie where you are fighting both an infected group and a government group can easily turn into a dumb action movie. That wouldn't have been bad, either, but this just felt smarter than that. There's a point where the Sheriff realizes that the local redneck hunting buddies are infected and chooses not to attack them. That robs the audience of gratuitous violence (for a while --- it's a movie, so you know they'll be back), but that was definitely the smart thing to do in a live-or-die situation. The movie is not flawless --- there is no need to begin the movie two days in the future, to show Ogden Marsh in flames, and then flash back for the rest of the film --- but there were a lot of nice touches. I thought that the car wash and nursery scenes were two of the better horror scenes I've watched in a while. The Crazies is not a movie that is trying to be inventive, it is just a well-crafted thriller with some horror elements.