Population 436 (DVD)
Directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
A siren begins to wail. Two cars are locked in a deadly chase. At the same time across town a mother-to-be's legs are being parted. A physician is elbow deep in the chore of helping to bring new life into this world. Tires screech. The mother pushes. Wheels leave the road. The doctor reaches. One car flips. The baby is now visible. The overturned vehicle bursts into flames, roasting its driver. The newborn takes its first breath before screaming into the night. Everything is balanced. Just another ordinary day in the quiet little town of Rockwell Falls.
There are things in life which cannot be explained. Events that are far too coincidental for comfort. Enter census taker Steve Kady (Sisto). He's been assigned to investigate the reason why Rockwell Falls' population has remained a steady 436 for decades. Must be some kind of error, right? Upon his arrival Kady is greeted with the friendliest folks any small town could possibly provide. They sing, dance, always greet you with a smile, and of course -- make killer apple pie. Rockwell Falls seems like the perfect little place. You would have to be crazy to want to leave. That's exactly what the townsfolk believe. Any individual who dares to try and escape is deemed crazy. Or better yet, afflicted.
All towns have their dark secrets. Rockwell Falls' is the fever. The fever is not airborne, it doesn't affect a victim's blood, nor is it an S.T.D. It's simply a state of mind. If you dare have thoughts about leaving this tight-knit community, you are captured and treated until cured of your malady. As long as everyone's okay with staying put, all is well and everybody is deemed healthy. But then there is that whole bit about population control. Since Kady is the new guy on the block, it only makes sense to these loonies that someone else has to go.
Are they actually nuts, or are there darker forces at work? To go on about the storyline any further would inevitably lead to spoilers. It would be a shame to give anything away, so I am stopping right here.
Population 436 does a lot of things right. The inhabitants of the town are all drawn well, and every actor on set goes for broke. Even Fred Durst. Yes, that Fred Durst. I know just his mere presence is enough to turn some people off, but let's give the guy a break, shall we? His performance of Deputy Bobby is as rock-solid as anyone else's, so please check all the preconceived Limp hate at the door. If you don't, you're liable to miss out on a nifty bit of cinematic mystery.
Good characters are nothing if they do not have anywhere to do their thing. The direction of small screen veteran Michelle Maxwell MacLaren and the spot-on writing of Michael Kingston do much to give our resident radical rednecks an interesting habitat in which to move around. Even though the story itself is a bit on the derivative side (there's a whole lot of Wicker Man type stuff going on, minus the nude wall slapping dance of seduction, of course) the duo do a decent job of crafting a film that will most likely keep you guessing until the very end.
I know what you're thinking. "Hey! Not a bad review. Maybe I'll check this one out. And look -- It's even rated R!" While that is true, don't let Population 436's R rating get you too excited. Good R-rated horror is getting harder and harder to come by nowadays, and this movie is not a good representation of it. In fact, why this film got an R rating is anyone's guess. There's barely any foul language though there is a brief sex scene in which we get to see the side of one nipple, and honestly there's hardly any bloodshed at all. If this isn't PG-13, I don't know what is. Color me baffled. Still, even without the hardcore grue we are always on the lookout for, Population 436 will provide its viewer with a semi-cool and creepy ride through a Twilight Zone like nightmare.
Included on the DVD is the film's only bit of supplemental material, an alternate ending. After watching it, I'm glad they decided to go the route that they did. Population's original finale has a bit of balls to it. Lord knows we do not need any more flicks that have that lovely little happy ending bow placed lovingly on top of it.
Population 436 is a taut yet flawed thriller. It does dodge a lot of the usual pitfalls, and that is not without merit. However, it also makes no effort to go beyond the boundaries of the last one hundred films we've already seen like this. File this one under fun while it lasts, but easily forgettable.
3 out of 5