Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #5: "Dying Breed"

If Dying Breed is to be believed, Australia in the early 1800s resembled a primeval version of Escape from New York. Once a penal colony housing England's undesirable, the most notorious of them all was the Pieman, a criminal who fed on human flesh to survive. Centuries after his death, the Pieman's legend lives on in a remote area of Tasmania, where a group of pals have come to in search of a rare tiger. What they instead run into is the set of The Aussie Chainsaw Massacre and a village that swears by the Pieman's cannibalistic cookbook. The locals take to hunting down the tourists in short order, but having reached the bottom of the gene pool some time ago, the residents plan to replenish their bloodline before the feast truly begins.

Few horror movies concern themselves with surprising viewers anymore. We know what to expect, as do they, so nine times out of ten, it's a matter of the inevitable being delayed. But how a flick passes that time before the foregone conclusion is what separates a fan's ecstatic elation from their profanity-laden dismay. I'm not so disappointed that Dying Breed falls into this line so easily (which I am, but that's another story) as I am in it providing nothing to really watch in the meantime. It's a film that lays down all its cards from the word go, foreshadows everything you could possibly expect from a premise like this, and still expects you to be gobsmacked when its world turns exactly as planned. What was I supposed to carry away from this? That cannibalism is icky? Thanks, movie, I never would've guessed. Excuse me while I fill in the cast of Alive.

Dying Breed isn't big on creating tension, sustaining it as the narrative progresses, and upping the suspense ante when necessary -- it's all about characters learning things the audience figured out twenty minutes in, until the movie feels like stopping. The mood is dour enough (as cannibal stories that don't involve dudes named Raoul tend to be), so waiting for Dying Breed to finish having its way with you makes you more hostage than paying customer. Adding further drudgery to the proceedings are characters who go endure routines their respective archetypes have dictated they go through since the dawn of time. But Nathan Phillips as the king of the douchebags aside, the lead performers, which include Saw screenwriter Leigh Whannell, do turn out fairly appealing performances. Plus, as dark as the overall tone gets, the few hints of self-aware exploitation help it feel less bleak and hopeless than fellow Aussie fright flick Wolf Creek.

Would I go so far as to call Dying Breed stupid? Well, it's not good at all, but it's less constructive with its time than it is outright idiotic. It has the makings of a taut survival thriller, one that could make good use out of Australia's urban legends. But just as the film's characters have consigned themselves to biting the dust by the final reel, viewers can anticipate an abysmal ride out of Dying Breed before the Pieman's first big bite.

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