Day 21: 31 Days of Halloween


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Black Sheep (New Zealand, 2006) * * 1/2
D: Jonathan King

This horror-comedy from New Zealand--no, it's not directed by Peter Jackson--takes the most absurd premise it can think of (killer sheep) and applies it to the survival horror genre. It might sound like a can't-lose idea: New Zealand, after all, is known for its copious quantities of sheep, and it's bound to provide for some stunning location shooting; there's also the fact that writer-director Jonathan King enlisted the prestigious WETA Workshop (The Lord of the Rings) to contribute creature puppetry. But Black Sheep, surprisingly enough, comes off as a little tired and cliched. There have been a glut of absurdist horror comedies recently--Killer Condom is already eleven years old, folks--so it's not enough to simply propose an off-the-wall premise. You have to make the premise immediate and compelling, which Black Sheep fails to do. Another major problem is that it's a little too polished (although the sheep effects, even if they were provided by WETA, look charmingly low-budget in spots): the cinematography is stunning, and there's a full orchestra score by Victoria Kelly which completely diffuses any possible tension by being self-consciously "quirky" and pleasant. In its grander moments, it even seems to evoke Howard Shore. Listen, we all know Lord of the Rings revitalized the New Zealand film industry, and that's a great thing. But Black Sheep possesses none of the relentless, go-for-the-throat instinct of King's idol, Peter Jackson. Even the token explicit gore feels pat. You need to get the feeling that the director believes in his story, but the touch is too light, the humor too self-satisfied. The filmmakers get points for trying, but they didn't try hard enough. (Incidentally, for a straight-faced take on a similar premise, see 2005's Isolation, a movie about killer cows. Not very good either, but still...)



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