APRIL 3, 2009
I, like at least 99% of the world, did not see all of the After Dark Horrorfest films in theaters during their all but completely unadvertised run this past January (it was so off the radar that even Lionsgate - who handled the distribution - employees didn't even know that they were out until word of mouth hit them). Ironically, the two I saw were above average for the festival, and the trend continues with Dying Breed, a straight up "don't go traveling" movie with some inspired and welcome doses of cannibalism.
The most surprising thing about the movie is that, despite starring actors from Saw (Leigh Whannell) and Wolf Creek (Nathan Phillips) - the poster children for "torture porn" horror movies - it's refreshingly light on prolonged violence. A cannibal mountain man eating a girl's lip is about as brutal as it gets, and it's hardly excessive or pointless (he's hungry!). And the other guy more or less kills himself when he trips on a bear trap and gets his head in another. The other two (there are four protagonists) are captured more or less off-screen and led to a more disturbing, but entirely off-screen fate (for a hint - see the 2nd part of the title).
I also like that, for once, it takes place in the forest-y part of Australia. So many of these movies take place in the outback, you almost forget that Australia does in fact have trees and grass. The irony, of course, is that the setting, coupled with the seemingly permanent overcast/drizzling weather, I kept forgetting it WAS Australia, and not the usual Vancouver backdrop.
It was also nice to see Whannell's improved acting. His performance in Saw (particularly in the 3rd act) is enough to completely overshadow the film's strong points, so I was initially worried about him more or less carrying this film. Luckily, he's actually pretty good, playing a more sympathetic and calmed role. By the time he's in hysterics mode (his weak spot), the movie's almost over anyway, so no harm done. I wouldn't say he should quit his day job (speaking of, when's the dude gonna write another movie?), but at least I feel confident that he can deliver a good performance, albeit in limited range.
The film's only real sore spot is that of familiarity. The couples arrive in unknown territories, they piss off a local, notice some strange stuff... etc, etc. The introduction of cannibals (even a cannibal child!) helps obscure some of the cliche, but it still nags at times. There is also a backstory involving the main girl's sister that gets forgotten for long stretches, to the point that when they bring it up again you momentarily forgot that it was indeed part of this movie and not some other survival horror movie.
Apparently the Australian DVD has a 40 min making of and a commentary (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true). We only get a "Producer's trailer" (seems like a perfectly normal trailer to me) and a 18 minute EPK-style featurette. It goes through the motions, hardly addressing the true story (of Alexander Pearce, aka "The Pieman" - see here) that served as the inspiration for the movie, which was all I was really interested in anyway. It's good to know that the actors enjoyed working with each other and that the locations were extraordinary though. I was worried.
What say you?