The Dakota Territories, 1879. 'Tis the perfect setting for a Louis L'Amour saga, though The Burrowers proceeds to spin a more terrifying tome. Irish immigrant Coffey (Karl Geary) has come to his sweetheart's home to propose marriage, only to find the place ransacked and his beloved missing. Assuming that she and her family were taken hostage by Indians, Coffey joins a rescue party in hopes of seeing her home safely. But the further the hunt continues, the more some of the men start believing that the true culprits aren't all that human. Right they are, for what Coffey and company are dealing with is a far more ancient menace, one driven underground by Manifest Destiny and forced to turn towards man to sate its hunger.
Director J.T. Petty is a master at taking cool concepts for low-budget thrillers and stamping out any signs of life. First came Soft for Digging, a dull dalliance into David Lynch's table scraps. Next came Mimic 3, a sequel with a clever bent undone by the script's sheer inanity. Now we have The Burrowers, a step up from the former two in how one hammer to the groin is preferable to two. Again, Petty presents an alluring premise: pretty much do what Predator did, but in the Old West. Sounds ridiculous enough to have fun with, except Petty leaves out a key ingredient: fun. So preoccupied is the film with keeping up appearances, of suckering viewers with the promise of a traditional Western, it sort of forgets about the Civil War-era C.H.U.D.s running amok.
The more serious tone is a nice thought, but it wears thin when maintained for so long by a script that's nowhere near up to the task. The acting is alright enough (any film starring Clancy "Mr. Krabs" Brown as a gunslinger gets an instant gold star), but the story assigns most characters a single emotion and puts it on a 90-minute loop. No real insight is gained beyond Coffey wanting to see his girlfriend or some kid trying to prove his manhood, et cetera. Plus, the pacing is so downbeat that when the title creatures are revealed, you really could care less. Besides, the effects are incredibly wonky, so all the build-up for what ends up resembling H.R. Giger's fingerpaints really isn't up to snuff.
With its languid pacing and adherence to cliche, The Burrowers is as lethargic as horror flicks get. It's less of a film and more of a test, prodding you with patches of inactivity and tangential subplots to see how long your investment in the story will last before you retreat into the sunset.