Monday, June 27, 2011

Dying Breed (Australia, 2008)

"Simple Simon met the pie man playing with a knife Said Simple Simon to the pie man, 'Will you take my life?' Said the pie man to Simple Simon, 'When the time is right.' Said Simple Simon to the pie man, 'Then I'll die tonight'."
Katie (Sheridan Harvey)

In the three-DVD horror package I picked up on my last trip to Groningen, the world's biggest open-air shopping mall with a wonderfully nasty postmodern art museum, Dying Breed is the middle film between Dance of the Dead (2008 / trailer) and Doghouse (2009 / trailer) – a truly inappropriate place for it to be. Dance of the Dead and Doghouse are both zomcoms, whereas Dying Breed is far from a comedy and has nothing to do with zombies – though more than enough flesh-munching is indeed on its menu.
If there is a laugh in the debut feature-length film that director Jody Dwyer serves up, I missed it. Instead, I saw a film that's one cup The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 / trailer and 2003 / trailer) baked with one cup of The Hills Have Eyes (1977 / trailer and 2006 / trailer), liberally peppered with a spoonful of Deliverance (1972 / trailer) and garnered with Australian accents. About as original as an Elmyre de Hory painting and as predictable as your mom's meatloaf, Dying Breed is a contemporary Ozploitation flick that offers nothing new but remains as effectively grueling once it kicks in as it does remain predictable from the start – nonetheless, it is a depressingly efficient ride with a couple of decent shocks (like the expected but nonetheless nasty bear-trap death)
and a gloomy ending that does not really hold water but still leaves you all queasy in the stomach.
Odd, actually, that the film didn't start with one of those ubiquitous "Based on True Events" statements, for it would have about as much reason to do so as, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or (to get closer to Oz) Wolf Creek (2005 / trailer) or even Fargo (1996 / trailer) does. In other words: the inspiration may be based on someone somewhere who once existed, but all that follows is pure fabrication.
The true tale upon which Dying Breed is based is one unknown to the rest of the world but familiar in bits and pieces to most Australians, that of Alexander Pearce. Pearce – whose skull, oddly enough, is now housed far from Australia at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – was an Irish convict transported to Tasmania during the first quarter of the 18th century; he is remembered today for having successfully escaped Sarah Island (twice) and for having cannibalized his fellow escapees while doing so. He was executed (hanged) at 9 AM on 19 July 1824. Dying Breed, however, begins by doing a bit of history revisionism and has him escaping into the backwaters of Tasmania to live amongst the CGI Tasmanian Tigers...
Jump forward to the 21st century. Nice but wimpy Matt (Leigh Whannell of Saw [2004 / trailer]) accompanies his uptight zoologist girlfriend Nina (Mirrah Foulkes of Animal Kingdom [2010 / trailer]) to Tasmania to search for the extinct Tasmanian Tiger; many years previously, before turning up toothless and drowned in the Pieman River in Tasmania, her sister sent her a photo of a paw print lending credence to the argument that the supposedly extinct creature is still around. Matt has talked his old best bud Jack the asshole (Nathan Phillips of Snakes on a Plane [2006 / trailer] and Wolf Creek) into assisting them, and together with Matt's obviously-not-the-final-girl girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo) they go where they obviously shouldn't: deep into the virgin-forest backwaters of Tasmania. After a brief stopover in a hicksville mudhole called "Sarah", populated by inbred psychos, the four boat on up the river where everything more or less happens as is expected in a film about city folk that head into unexplored backwaters, only this time the hicks are cannibals and are in search of new breeding stock…
There is very little narrative creativity in this film and the CGI – of the tiger and an ax in the face – is terrible, but the sense of dread does build nicely and there are a couple of effective scenes. The ending is truly repulsive, but less than logical or truly believable, even if the Older Cop (Greg Parker) knows the truth and is in on a cover-up (alone the shack in the woods would probably bring in a whole forensics crew). The only truly likable character is the first to go, and Jack in general is almost a caricature of the character type he is meant to be – as is virtually everyone in the film. Director Jody Dwyer has a nice grasp of direction even if the scriptwriters are sloppy, and the mood of unavoidable doom that pervades the last half goes a long way towards making the film watchable.
Of course, Dying Breed is only truly watchable if you can deal with mean, depressing and grueling horror films. If not, you should best watch something like Dance of the Dead or Doghouse and skip this meaty slab of carnivorous hillbilly hell…

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