Directed by Jonathan King
So I finally got to see the New Zealand import that everyone’s been talking about since its festival run last year: Jonathan King’s Black Sheep (not to be confused with the Chris Farley/David Spade comedy of the same name). Thankfully it was well worth the wait! The film manages to combine horror, comedy and good old-fashioned gore to give a pretty damn unique experience, all with the gorgeous backdrop of New Zealand countryside to make it all the more memorable. Really, who ever thought a weresheep could be scary?
In the small country of New Zealand, home to both director King and splat/Ring master Peter Jackson, the sheep far outnumber the humans. Normally this isn’t a big deal since sheep herding is what most of the country’s farms are all about, but when an experiment conducted in a small town manages to find its way into the local heard, the ratio of sheep to humans becomes a very large issue. Some would say a matter of life and death, even.
The story unfolds as Henry Oldfield (Meister) returns to his family’s farm after spending 15 years away, being driven into an intense and irrational fear of sheep when his brother traumatizes him with a sheep carcass on the same day their father plunges off a cliff to his death. Henry’s back to both confront his fears and get a nice, hefty check from brother Angus (Feeney) for selling him his half of the farm. At the same time a pair of animal rights activists sneak onto the land to find out if there really are secret experiments going on at the Oldfield farm. Grant (Driver), being overzealous and more than just a little bit insane, manages to make off with one of said experiments but soon learns more truth than he ever wanted to know when he accidentally lets it loose.
This leaves his partner/girlfriend Experience (Mason) to seek out help from Henry to get home, a situation complicated by the fact that they quickly lose their vehicle in a sheep-related incident and now have to traverse miles of open space with about 50,000 sheep roaming about. Not good odds.
As Henry learns the truth of what his brother’s been doing to make himself so rich and the farm so valuable, the bodies pile up as the sheep become more and more aggressive. These sheep attack effects are handled with gorific glee by Weta Workshop, the company best known for making Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy come to life. Though there are some minor digital effects here and there, most of the time what you see on screen is done in glorious practical effects, a relief from those horror/monster movies who rely on too much CG to achieve their goal. Of course, Weta has a bit more experience than most, Richard Taylor being with them since the Dead Alive days, so they sure as hell know what they’re doing.
Though the story is pretty atypical for such adventures, the comedy is what really makes Black Sheep stand out and gives it the perfect midnight movie appeal, which is fortunately exactly how I got to experience it. All the acting is believable, with special credit given to Feeney for his lecherous performance as the evil Angus, who will let nothing get his way of being the richest farmer in the land, long-term effects be damned. I would say the only thing that does tend to slow things down a bit is the burgeoning romance between Henry and Experience, but it’s another one of those plot points that you really expect in a movie about people running for their lives, right?
Black Sheep is a fun monster movie that never takes itself too seriously and has a firm grasp on exactly what kind of movie it is. It delivers on every level, from action to humor to grue (lots of good, throat-and-limb tearing gore); hell, there’s even a halfway decent transformation scene as one of the characters becomes a weresheep.
Speaking of which, if I could just mention the brilliance of the weresheep one more time. They really do look imposing and dangerous, despite the fact that sheep are about the most docile creatures you could ever want to meet. Apparently getting involved with our DNA makes them angry and hungry though, an effect you really get to see in its full glory as more and more weresheep begin to roam the countryside towards the end, causing as much havoc as possible in the search for a good meal.
Dimension Films has the release rights for Black Sheep in its back pocket; hopefully they won’t relegate this one to a direct-to-DVD fate because this is really a movie that needs to be enjoyed with a crowd. A good, midnight movie crowd is best, but something tells me even the most jaded common moviegoer will have something to scream about in Black Sheep, and that always makes a more memorable theaterical experience.
4 1/2 out of 5
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