Dying Breed (2008)
Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Leigh Whannell, Sally McDonald, Peter Docker, Nathan Phillips
Directed by Jody Dwyer
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of 20-something friends head out into the woods for a bit of R&R, some fooling around in nature, maybe some bird watching by one of the nerdier amongst them. They encounter a gruff ensemble of rednecks before heading off in the wilds, setting a foreboding tone to their excursion. They press on nonetheless. Soon, they get the feeling they’re being watched. Soon after that, they are preyed on and subsequently, one by one, they are dispatched in graphic and creative ways by an unseen assailant…
Sound original? Well, Dying Breed isn’t original and it fits the model I just described to a T. But then, what are we to do? Write a solidly executed genre effort off purely for not being original? No way! Wrong Turn wasn’t original, and it was good. So is Dying Breed.
Dying Breed is a homogenous blend of 3 films. You’ve got equal parts I>Deliverance, Wolf Creek (‘cos it takes place down under and features Nathan Phillips, the male protagonist of Wolf Creek) and Ravenous. Add a dash of Just Before Dawn, and that’s your movie right there.
It’s well executed on all the important, basic levels. The acting is decent even if the hero characters aren’t particularly likeable. The plot, although trapped on the mousewheel of the stalk/slash format, wraps up well enough if rather unpleasantly. Although, given the passing of the whole post-stalker horror genre, it’s a bit tiresome to see characters do dumb things like the “let’s split up!” cliché after the killer has struck, or saying “stay here while I go and find help!” to a wounded member of their party who is still in the house where one or more of their friends was recently hacked to pieces.
But such shortcomings are something all of us horror fans are used to. Dying Breed makes up for those things in other ways. The bad guys are really horrible and perverse in this one. It’s like the legend of Sawney Bean transposed to the opposite side of the globe, a gang of murderous cannibals operating clandestinely in a remote area for more than a century (they’re the descendents of the worst-of-the-worst violent prisoners from back when Tasmania acted as a sort of old-school Devil’s Island, the equivalent to a colonial maximum penitentiary). The violence, when it is dispatched, is swift, merciless, and extremely gruesome. The locations are amazing – Tasmania’s forests seem to have a lot in common with the denser forested areas of central and Western North America. The soundtrack is well done too; like with Deliverance, natural deep woods ambience is used efficiently to ratchet up the tension and keep us very aware of how far from civilization our “heroes” in the story are.
I should point out that Dying Breed has a decidedly mean and nasty edge to it, putting it squarely in the corner where films like Borderland and Wolf Creek dwell. It’s not as good as Wolf Creek, mainly because unlike that film, you aren’t drawn so far into the nightmare because the characters here just aren’t people you can identify with or like. There’s also a rather confusing subplot about one of the girls on the deep-woods foray having had a sister disappear out this way before. I guess it made sense via the ending what might have happened in the past, but the way the past-tense is laid out along the way via flash cuts is confusing and vague. The fact that the surviving sister has doubled up her search for her missing sibling with a legitimately funded photographic excursion in search of a rare species is also a bit odd. None of this is dwelled on to the point of getting in the way of the horror aspects though, so who cares.
Mean horror films like this one definitely aren’t for everyone. Even with me, it depends on my mood, because sometimes I find movies like this are merely slumming it. At least in the old stalker movie days, you could cross your fingers that someone might get away and that you won’t be left feeling hopeless. I’m not going to tell you who lives or dies in this one, but it’s not like the odds ever seem to be remotely in favor of anyone getting out alive. But I’ve grown to appreciate the effect of this particular style. I mean, what are horror movies meant to do? If they’re designed to horrify, then Dying Breed delivers. If old school slashers are the draft beer of the genre, then this kind of stuff is the moonshine – it burns going down, but if you’ve got a wrought iron stomach, a tough bastard of a horror film like Dying Breed will definitely do the trick.
When the ball gets rolling, Dying Breed does get pretty unnerving and cringe inducing if not outright terrifying. If the filmmakers set out to make a ratty, gruesome, and unforgiving horror film, then they succeeded.
4 out of 5
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