5-Word 365 #078 – Black Sheep

This week, it’s a tip from my roommate Iida. Some good old monster fun from Down Under. Oddly enough, since this movie ended I can’t stop thinking in a Kiwi accent. I really hope that stops before I get to work tomorrow.

Black Sheep

You know, it’s not baaaaaaaaaad*

A man returns to the old family farm in rural New Zealand so that his brother can buy him out, only to discover a secret experiment in genetic engineering that has turned the local sheep into man-eaters. Teaming up with the farm manager and an environmental protester, he must battle his way through the flock to safety.

Yeah, that’s right. Man-eating sheep. Awesome, bat-shit crazy, man-eating sheep. Also, if you get bitten by one of these man-eating sheep and don’t die, you will become a weresheep. This is one of those films that is so totally out there, but is played so completely straight by all concerned that it amplifies both the comedy and the horror elements without diluting either. It works like a charm, and it also owes a big debt to Peter Jackson in his Braindead years. I suppose you could call this a continuation of that style, if not an homage. In fact there are even some direct PJ ties to this flick, since his Weta Workshop is behind all the gloriously icky practical effects.

Something about this is just downright unsettling.

While I was watching this today I remember thinking that it was taking a while to really get started. It was only after the movie finished that I realised why: I was expecting full-on gore and mad killer sheep from minute one. My mind just wasn’t ready for any actual character development. That’s a point in writer/director Jonathan King’s favour that he takes the time to build these folk up before setting the ovine menace upon them. Nathan Meister is great fun as Henry Oldfield, the brother who ran off to the city after developing a crippling fear of sheep – “Ovinophobia, my therapist calls it” “What’s that?” “Just the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this is going to happen!” – and ends up in a fight to the death with a whole herd when he just came back to pick up a check from his big bro Angus, played to wonderfully deranged excess by Peter Feeney. Danielle Mason plays Experience (yes, that really is her name) the environmentalist whose partner in crime Grant was accidentally responsible for the outbreak of the madness after he released a lamb that was an unfortunate by-product of the Evil Secret Lab of Doom. Experience spends a big chunk of the movie living up to the nutty hippy stereotype – such as pulling an aromatherapy candle out of her bag to light the way when trapped in a tunnel – but Mason makes her so likable and funny that she never gets irritating. The highlights for me as far as the cast are concerned though are Mrs Mac, the Oldfield’s shotgun-happy housekeeper and Tucker the farm manager. These two bring the perfect level of sweary nonchalance to this ridiculous concept. The fact that they just take it all in stride really makes the whole shebang easier to run with without questioning it all too much.

I thought about putting in a shot of some of our human cast members, but let's face it, you're not gonna watch this for the people (as much fun as they are).

It seems almost redundant to say it at this point, but the scenery is gorgeous. New Zealand is probably the most beautiful natural landscape on the planet. There aren’t any soaring helicopter shots like in PJ’s more recent work, but the farmland that the flick was shot on is almost a character in itself. One sequence near the end sees the whole herd of killer sheep approaching Angus’ big presentation to a bunch of international businessmen of the new breed he’s developed, and they come streaming over a hillock and down through some trees like the Riders of Rohan approaching Helm’s Deep. It’s just glorious to watch. The Weta Workshop crew show their worth yet again with some amazing gore effects, not to mention the carnivorous beasties as well.

If you liked Braindead (or Dead Alive for my American friends), Shaun of the Dead or Dog Soldiers, you will almost certainly love this uniquely Kiwi mash-up of the zombie and werewolf traditions. This would be a good drinking game movie too.

(*I am so very, very sorry)

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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