Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Population 436 (2006)

(Trailer) Steve Kady (Jeramy Sisto), a census taker from Chicago, has been sent by the US Census Bureau to the idyllic small town of Rockwell Falls, a pleasant if out-of-the-way location that has seemingly had a constant population of 436 inhabitants since 1860. When his car gets multiple flat tires on the dirt road leading into town, Steve catches a ride with the local Deputy Bobby Caine (Fred Durst) and ends up lodging at a local farm where the ethereally attractive Courtney Lovett (Charlotte Sullivan) lives with her mother. The more Steve pursues his assigned duty, the more he begins to realize that not just the clocks in Rockwell Falls don't seem to tick right; there seems to be a mysterious and endemic "fever" that results in either death or a distant, absent-minded attitude... The more Steve begins to delve into the secrets of the seemingly perfect small town, the less likely it seems that he will ever be returning to Chicago.
The direct-to-DVD Population 436 is the feature-length first film by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren, a regular director and producer of a lot of X-File episodes and other TV shows. And, although he does handle both his actors and the surrounding scenery with aplomb, his television roots remain visible: were it not for the sex scene (for which the film hardly deserves its R rating), Population 436 could easily be a well-filmed, overly long episode of the X-Files or a television mystery suspense film — although the film's (original) depressing ending would actually put it more into the "supernatural suspense" genre. This is not to say the film is bad, for Population 436 is much too well-filmed and well-acted to be that; the problem is simply that Population 436 doesn't really offer anything that hasn’t already been seen before in dozens of better (and worse) films. That said, for all its predictability, Population 436 still manages to keep the viewer interested as it leisurely meanders to its invertible conclusion. (Things just don’t change at Rockwell Falls.)
Population 436 is a horror film of the old school, and places more emphasis on the slow and steady build-up of suspense and dread than on interspersed moments visceral and tits. In that sense, why the film should be rated R is a bigger mystery than the events at Rockwell Falls, for although there are a couple of bloodless (if typically spectacular) car accidents, a public hanging, a bloodless bullet to the head and one sex scene blocked in such a way that none of the nice bits can be seen, Population 436 lacks both overt gore and explicit sex. But what it does have is some damn good acting. Limp Bizket front man Fred Durst and the beautiful Charlotte Sullivan are surprisingly effective and natural; given the right material, they could possibly go places. Jeramy Sisko's laid-back style of acting, however, may fit the film well, but slowly but surely he is beginning to seem like a one trick pony — a one trick pony that should perhaps also start watching his weight.
Population 436 is a nice little flick that makes 90 minutes fly by quick enough without offending anybody's senses, but it is definitely neither an unknown masterpiece or imperative viewing.

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