House of Mirth and Movies

The Crazies (Breck Eisner, 2010)

Most cinema is far too vague, far too populist to be taken seriously as critical essays on the state of our society. I’d even venture to say, at least in it’s mainstream incarnation, to even attempt to make some crucial political point is pretentious… Yes, I’ve joined the ranks of the elitist witch-hunts. Those damned elitists… cinema should be about escape, not your fucking agenda! Wait, that’s not what I mean at all. What I mean is, the films that aren’t shoving ideas down our throat are far more interesting as critical and reflective documents about the current state of the world we live in. The question always remains, do we take queues about “normal” behaviour from cinema, or does is it simply a mirror to our true selves? The easy, uncomplicated answer is probably that it’s a hybrid of both…

In horror, there is an opportunity to really understand the emotional state of a nation. More than most genres, it’s easy to map out pervading anxieties and social pre-occupations within the horror genre that are probably far more telling and apt than the year’s big message picture. What does The Crazies say about us? Not much that we haven’t seen before, at least from an anthropological point of view. What do we fear? The Millitary, chemical/biological warfare, social dissolve, government conspiracies, etc. You only have to look at films like 28 Weeks Later or the Mist to get an understanding of what I’m getting at. The Crazies perhaps refines some of these ideas, bringing them to new and perhaps outrageous extremes. We have soldiers in masks, who if they show their face will “die”. One of the characters speculates that perhaps the disease is now airborne, but this seems to be refuted by the protagonist’s apparent survival. They will die because they need to remain anonymous; they have to be an institution, not an individual. A face is dissent; dissent is unacceptable in every and any respect.

What other extremes? We have soldiers’ shooting down innocent people in 28 Weeks Later. It’s disturbing. We have that in The Crazies? What else do we have in The Crazies? We have organized killing. Not a random call, an act of impulse that is refuted… we have organized murder. The Holocaust is never mentioned, but the charred bodies piled up, the medical bracelet’s still around their wrists, we understand the association. These are images that never fade.

We no longer trust government institutions. They have the weapons, they have the man-power, they have the violence. We can fight back, but for how long? If our government can wage an unjust war, one that the people do not agree with, one that the people find abhorrent, what else can they do? If people are dying in the streets, and they do nothing, how are we supposed to respond? Even with new government, we have lost faith in the safety net that the government provides. We may no longer be in a cold war, but the sentiments of repression and fear have been re-ignited. Institutional violence is and always has been the most widely accepted kind of violence, since it is most often perceived as being “what’s best” for us. The enemies and the methods fluctuate but it remains a social constant. Sometimes the scales tip though, and people become aware or wary of what is happening. What was once sure is now a carefully veiled “conspiracy” and paranoia ensues.

It is not the individual who is responsible, because individually, we find this behaviour abhorrent. We know it’s wrong, and we would never commit ourselves to such violence. You assemble a mob though, or an organization, and it suddenly becomes easier… suddenly, it’s no longer violence, but an act of the State. This is essentially what we fear most. We fear that we are a part of these institutions that we knowingly engage in the “machination of death”.

What about form? The Crazies form is better than it ought to be. As potentially interesting as the screenplay may be, it is somewhat repetitive.  The editing is spot on, absolutely precise to inspire the strongest reaction from the audience. There are very few shots that are superfluous, which I have to say is absolutely refreshing. The horror is succinct, the way that it ought to be. Tonally, the film is wonderful. Though some of the imagery, notably some that I’ve mentioned, is disturbing, the film never takes on a tone of overt-seriousness, which is an almost unforgiveable crime in horror. Both Joe Anderson and Timothy Olyphant seem to have an unconscious understanding of the nature of horror writing, and spike many of the phrases and actions with a giddy kind of levity. Despite the horror that surrounds them, they never allow it to remove the sheer absurdity of the trappings of genre cinema either. Aside from a bit too much chase and fight, chase and fight, the film’s only other major “malfunction” is the use of the satellite POV… it’s ridiculous and feels out of place. It makes some interesting reveals, but is poorly executed, and feels as though formally, it belongs in a different film. Overall, I liked the film, especially for it’s outrageousness. It’s effectively scary, and pulls off a bunch of crazy shit that I normally wouldn’t let fly.

Or maybe the film is simply a deluded fantasy concocted by the Sheriff as a means of handling his own act of violence at the onset of the film. It’s a disease, we are not capable of real violence… a bit outrageous, and as much as I hate crazy readings of films, I think it’s one worth considering. The CRAZIES in the film remain somewhat human, they have memories and affectations. They are not soulless monsters, they are too close to being one of us, to the point where we are unsure who is and isn’t one of them. The line becomes more blurry as the film progresses, which I find ultimately fascinating. The film plays with these expectations and tricks constantly, and to a very disturbing effect.