Dir/scr: Jonathan King. NZ. 2006. 87mins.
A canny mix of splatter-movie aesthetics, nationaldread and ecological warning, Jonathan King's debut feature Black Sheep is a riotously funny,gleefully overdone horror exercise that more than hints at the influence of earlyPeter Jackson like Meet The Feebles, Braindead and BadTaste.
Swift andentertaining, though at times too malicious and cruel for its own good, King'smovie is too exuberant in its attraction to gore, slaughter and the physicaldisintegration of the body, although it capably delivers the necessary jolts.
Premiering as aMidnight title at Toronto - where it was attracting strong interest from buyers- Black Sheep should find a broad appreciativeaudience in the UK, New Zealand and Australia as well as the weekend horrorcrowd in the US. Cult ancillary will be strong.
King achievessome of his most inspired tension and low-key humor visually by juxtaposingpastoral New Zealand landscapes against the perverse imagery of rabid,genetically mutant deformed sheep ravishing the local population.
The plotting isstrictly B-movie of the mad-scientist variety, with a Cain-and-Abel subtextthrown in for good measure. In a sharp prologue, King quickly establishes theopposite emotional consciousness of two farmstead brothers: Angus (Feeney) isprickly and sadistic; Henry (Meister) is stuttering and fragile.
The story thenjumps 15 years, by which time Angus (Feeney) is a reviled corporate farmer subsidising questionable experiments in animal genetics. Henrymeanwhile is emotionally undone and has an irrational fear of sheep.
Two environmentalactivists, funny loon Grant (Driver) and the beautiful and smart Experience(Mason) unwittingly unleash a mutant virus that quickly infects the sizeablesheep populace on the brothers' vast farmlands. Now not given to submission orslaughter, the lambs wreak their vengeance, disintegrating into a viciousravenous flock that terrorises and quicklydepopulates the countryside.
At this point Black Sheep becomes a nightmare survivalstory, as the characters are drawn in blaring distinctions of good and bad, withsome sexual kinks thrown into the mix. Acting proves to be both a little toostiff and unexpressive to give the conflict any nuance of shading or emotionalinsight; rather King proves much better at teasing and drawing out the horrorimplications from everyday animals and objects.
The true standouthowever is the guts-churning effects work from New Zealand-based Weta Workshop (famed for Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy and King Kong remake), which largely consistsof puppeteering and animatronics. In particular theperverse twists of showing mutant transformations, as people are caught betweenhuman and animal form, recalls Rick Baker's excellent work on An American Werewolf InLondon.
Live Stock Films
New Zealand Film Commission