DECEMBER 17, 2010
You know, Masters Of Horror started in 2005, the same year Population 436 was shot, so I really wish the writer had submitted it as a potential episode (Mick Garris would have been a good fit, given the Stephen King-esque "small town of weirdos" plot), because at its core is an interesting and somewhat original story, but it also doesn't lend itself to a full length feature. An hour would have been perfect; at 92 minutes it starts to wear out its welcome.
Especially since it's barely a horror movie, but too silly to work as a drama. Basically, the title refers to the constant residency of this particular town, and the extreme lengths they go to keep it that way. So it's a bit like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery", except with more overt religious connotations, and not an annual thing. So when Jeremy Sisto shows up and (quite understandably) falls for Charlotte Sullivan, they decide he should stay and they kill some lady to even things out. If someone has a child, they kill someone else. I could have done without the religious angle (Sisto goes through some books and finds numerology connections and Bible passages - usual nonsense); they make occasional mention that they think that the town is perfect and thus no one should want to leave - I would have just made it so that they thought the town was so perfect (and that they were so crazy) that they didn't even want to change the "Entering Rockwell Falls: Population 436" sign.
But I always like this sort of "guy enters a weird place and figures out its secrets" scenario, so I wasn't TOO bored. I've seen enough to know that these things are always slow burns (he can't catch on/try to escape too soon, or else there's no movie). And I liked that they mixed it up a bit; when he finally DOES make a break for it, he doesn't take Sullivan (dammit!) but instead a little girl who the town's doctor and some others have kept under their thumb and practically brainwashed.
Also (spoiler): they die, which is pretty ballsy. Sisto of course pretty much always dies in horror movies, so that wasn't much of a surprise, but killing the little girl too was an unexpected bonus (hey, I like grim endings, sue me). Hilariously, there's an "alternate ending" that plays out exactly the same except they swerve at the last minute and avoid the truck that kills them, but if you pay attention, you can pretty much assume that the "they die" ending was always the preferred version - their destroyed truck still makes an appearance in the epilogue of the "they live" version, which wouldn't have made sense if they went that way. It also sort of spoils the idea that you truly can't escape and that they will always win in the end. Good call!
Another surprise was that Fred Durst was surprisingly decent in his role as the town cop who befriends Sisto and spends the movie torn between not wanting his new friend to get screwed over, but also not wanting to betray his town. Hell, I even felt kind of bad for the guy at one point, when he catches Sisto nailing Sullivan (he was in love with her). Sympathy for the guy who assaulted my eardrums throughout the summer of 1999 with his "Nookie" nonsense? Now I've seen everything!
Oddly, I almost didn't rent the film because I momentarily thought I had already seen it, but it turns out I was thinking of The Plague, another "guy comes to a town that has some strange problems" movie that I watched over two years ago. So I was quite "whoa..."-d when I put in the DVD and a trailer for The Plague played at the top. Both films were shot in Winnipeg as well. Weird. P.S. I knew we were in Canada as soon as I saw Peter Outerbridge, Canadian movie extraordinaire who is probably best known as the asshole health company exec in Saw VI. That guy and Julian Richings should do a buddy movie. About Canada.
What say you?