Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Crazies: A Review and Reflections

It was like a typical spring day from my boyhood. A crowd of proud parents and cheering neighbors in the stands. A pitch from a young pitcher and the crack of a bat making contact. You could almost smell the dirt on the baseball diamond and the freshly cut grass. But then this idyllic image shifts as a man wanders onto the field with a shot gun in his hands and murder in his heart. A confrontation with law enforcement ensues. Shots are fired and witnesses are traumatized.

While this sounds like an all-too-frequent-these-days image from the daily news, it's actually the beginning of the horror in a small, Mid-Western town that is the setting for "The Crazies". Starring Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, "The Crazies" has now replaced, "The Mist" as my favorite horror film (maybe I just like movies with two word titles).

The film shows the efforts of a small town sheriff and his wife, a pregnant physician, to survive as their friends and neighbors turn into homicidal fiends. We learn early on that a virus is the source of this terrible transformation. You may have noticed that viruses have become a kind of modern-day movie monster of their own, serving as the principle villains of films like "28 Days Later" and "Resident Evil". In the age of HIV, have we come to view an incurable pandemic as more frightening than an alien invasion or things going bump in the night?

"The Crazies" does it right from start to finish, focusing more on tension and suspense than gore. One of the best things about it is how the everyday becomes the setting for some of the scariest scenes. You definitely want to keep a look out for what happens in a car-wash for instance. I think this movie may do to getting your car washed what "Psycho" did to taking a shower, or "Jaws" did to going for a swim!

An unfortunate part of the film is the portrayal of the military. As the infection spreads, the military swoops in with the mission of "containment" and civil liberties go right out of the window. The soldiers are all anonymous, gas-mask wearing, followers-of-orders. These orders ultimately include killing unarmed civilians and even more gruesome tactics that I won't spoil.

The portrayal of the main protagonists is much more realistic and as they struggle through mortal peril over and over, you actually care what happens to them. The sheriff is no superman-type, bleeding and in pain throughout the film like a real person. His wife, the town doctor, is no damsel in distress. She does her fair share of screaming (a tradition for women in movies like this) but also fights back and uses her wits. The sheriff's deputy also plays a crucial role. The question of whether he is or is not infected adds to the tension.

As I've mentioned in the past, horror movies are really about more than monsters or chainsaw wielding maniacs. They are commentaries on human nature. This is an area where the film disappointed me a bit. Everyone who is infected eventually loses any trace of the positive qualities of humanity. This film, like similar films seems to suggest that human beings are merely a microbe away from turning into monsters. But what about the soul? Is a virus really more powerful than human consciousness or human conscience? Is biology destiny?

"In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man's spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man's Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint.

Man has the power both to do good and to do evil; if his power for good predominates and his inclinations to do wrong are conquered, then man in truth may be called a saint. But if, on the contrary, he rejects the things of God and allows his evil passions to conquer him, then he is no better than a mere animal." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60)