In a small Iowa farming community, Sheriff David (Olyphant) and his pregnant wife Dr Judy (Mitchell) are perplexed by the odd behaviour of the townsfolk, who begin losing their minds and acting out violently against each other. Then David and his deputy (Anderson) discover a mysterious crashed plane nearby, followed by an invasion of government containment officials who round up the residents and separate them into groups of infected and healthy. But something's still not right, and the craziness only escalates.
Eisner directs the film with a sure hand, adeptly building suspense in each scene by letting us glimpse the impending threat before things leap out at us.
Which they do, constantly. The result is a horror romp that's actually frightening for a change, even as it gets increasingly ludicrous. And it helps hugely that the script takes time to establish the characters along the way, which gives even the corniest plot points a whiff of meaning.
Olyphant, Mitchell and Anderson are a terrific central trio, each with enough personality and spark that we care what happens to them. Everyone else is defined by one or two simple elements, and it's rather nice that there's not an overt villain to the piece (beyond the overreacting government), although there are some story points that cycle around and keep coming back to haunt our heroes. And a few nice surprises along with the contrived dramatics.
But then, any depth or complexity are clearly in service of the gonzo mayhem, which involves a lot of guns, explosions and heavily made-up infected maniacs plotting all manner of unpleasantness for their former friends and neighbours.
And things do indeed get deeply nasty, with a lot of gratuitously grisly violence, sudden death and carnage on a mass scale. So it's surprising that the filmmakers miss one final trick that would have given the story a blackly witty final kick.* But then, you can't have everything.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th February 2010
Box Office USA: $38.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $55M
Distributed by: Overture Films
Production compaines: Participant Media, Overture Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 105 Rotten: 43
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Breck Eisner
Screenwriter: Scott Kosar, Ray Wright
Starring: Timothy Olyphant as David, Radha Mitchell as Judy, Joe Anderson as Russell, Danielle Panabaker as Becca, Christie Lynn Smith as Deardra Farnum, Brett Rickaby as Bill Farnum, Preston Bailey as Nicholas Farnum, John Aylward as Mayor Hobbs, Joe Reegan as Pvt. Billy Babcock, Glenn Morshower as Intelligence Officer, Larry Cedar as Ben Sandborn, Lynn Lowry as Woman on Bike, Pierce Gagnon as Distraught Son, Justin Price as Infected Civilian
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