One of the year's nicest bloody surprises
The low-budget spirit (and fact) of the Romero original, which wasn't very original to begin with, keeps this barreling B movie on track. Among other felicities, director Breck Eisner's virus-is-loose picture features an extremely tense scene set in a car wash. So you can check that off your list of things you never thought you'd see in a horror movie.
The location has moved from Romero's beloved, besieged Pennsylvania to a farming community in Iowa. (The film was shot in both Iowa and Georgia.) First sign of trouble: During the high school baseball opener, a troubled townie in overalls, carrying a shotgun, walks onto the field looking as if he's about to kill someone. After a standoff with the sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), the man is shot dead. One by one, in the next couple of days, the good people of Ogden Marsh become murderous lunatics, owing to a nearby downed plane carrying germ-warfare viral nastiness leaking straight into the town's water supply.
As in Romero's Vietnam-era original, the adversary is the U.S. government, which, after the craziness starts, launches "containment protocol," leading to many, many dead residents of the once-peaceable town. A trio of duck hunters turns into a ravaging pack of human slayers; in an excellent, chaotic scene, the local mortician goes nuts on the sheriff with some awful-looking cutting equipment.
Romero's original version is a minor work in his major canon. I greatly prefer this cleverly sustained and efficiently relentless remake to the '73 edition. It is lean and simple, and eventually becomes a tale of a quartet of survivalists against The Man and the zombie-like Crazies. The sheriff, his pregnant doctor wife (Radha Mitchell), the increasingly frazzled deputy (Joe Anderson) and the doctor's teenage assistant (Danielle Panabaker) grind through one attack and counterattack after another, yet the movie itself never becomes a grind. Eisner ("Sahara" ) knows how to film a sport utility vehicle pulling into a gravel parking lot in a hurry without it looking like every other shot in existence. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre keeps the palette ominously brackish, and while editor Billy Fox has one too many whoops-I-scared-you! moments to deal with, even these come off with more wit and variety than usual.
R (for bloody violence and language)
Timothy Olyphant (Sheriff Dutton); Radha Mitchell (Dr. Judy Dutton); Joe Anderson (Russell); Danielle Panabaker (Becca)
Directed by Breck Eisner; written by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright , based on the 1973 film; produced by Michael Aguilar , Dean Georgaris and Rob Cowan . An Overture Films release. Running time: 1:41.