Thursday, 9 June 2016

Black Sheep - review

2006 (New Zealand)

Contains mild spoilers.

What do you get when you cross a large sheep farm, a crazed genetic engineer and a collection of exaggerated characters all converging right when things kick off? You get director / writer Jonathon King's barmy little b-movie rom-com Black Sheep. And to cut to the chase it's good. It's well written with strong acting and production and does everything you'd expect for a silly horror story played straight. Yet, and here's the rub, for a film about crazed mutant killer sheep it also perhaps plays it a little on the safe side.

There's Angus Oldfield (Peter Feeney), owner of the largest sheep farm in New Zealand. There's his younger brother Henry (Nathan Meister) who's returned home to settle accounts and sell his share of the farm. There's a pair of animal rights activists, a sheep handler, a housekeeper and, that's right, a genetic lab run by Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright) who's been playing god with both sheep and Angus' DNA. It's b-movie territory, so the characters are given plenty of licence to ham it up. Yet despite plenty of ammo to really joke around with, such as Henry's Ovinaphobia (the best term for the irrational fear of sheep I could find) there were times I felt the dialogue and story was holding back; that there was a fear to really let go. It's not all the time, and kudos should really be given to the accomplished script, the great performances and successful dry humour, but, and I never really thought I'd ever say this, perhaps it could have benefited from been a bit more Troma.

In time honoured b-movie tradition, quite how and for that matter why Dr. Rush was given the time, resources and authority to conduct her experiments is neither hide nor hair. What does matter is when combined with the incompetence of the animal rights brigade some toxic waste is spilled and before you can recite Mary Had A Little Lamb the whole flock has turned from fluffy white clouds to ferocious homicidal little shits hell bent on turning the green and pleasant countryside a distinct shade of red. So are they zombies and is this a zombie film? A difficult one to answer and depends entirely on which side of the zombie debate you stand. If one can handle animals as zombies then there's an argument that the insatiable hunger for human flesh they're newly consumed with would count them in. There's also a small scene in the lab with a sheep clearly deceased but still moving which is a tick for the reanimated side of things. If anything though, and especially what with all the, if rather stupid, sheep-human mutating, that this is perhaps more of a were- film albeit were-sheep than wolf. Anyway, there's sheep, they've turned into ravenous killing machines via a toxic spill and there's blood, gore, carnage, and plenty of death; and a certain ambiguity, so I'll let it sit. Also I did let Zombeavers and Poultrygeist on, and I am going for the whole zombie zoo.

I've read King stood up at the Belgian Horror Festival, he said he didn't want too much CGI to ruin his film and Black Sheep is all the better for it. Animatronics were handled by Weta Workshop, who had previously taken care of BrainDead (Dead Alive) and went on to handle Lord of The Rings, are as you'd expect top notch, if still, and delightfully so, a little hokey. And the oodles of splatter and gore, which King certainly doesn't shy away from are gruesome and handled with all the bad taste one would want.

Perhaps a little cliché, perhaps a little restrained and simple, Black Sheep is still the riotous ride, full of charm, character and dark, bloody fun. It's also exactly what you'd expect from a film about zombie sheep, which is both a good thing, and yet perhaps bad thing. Still; Excessive gore? Check. Bad sheep jokes? Check. An audaciously implausible story full of laughably b-movie ideas and black humour? Check. A perfect friends and beer film? Check. 6/10? Check.


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