Black Sheep

Black Sheep

 

If you ever wondered what a quintessentially New Zealand horror film would be like you need look no further.  Yeah, this is a movie about  sheep, not just any sheep, mind you, but evil, cruel, man-eating zombie sheep.  I think I can say that without spoiling the movie for you.   Look! It’s even on the DVD cover.  Wait!  Don’t go!  I know you’re probably thinking, “What the. . . . ?  Zombie sheep?  Are you kidding?”  No, I’m not kidding.  Stick with me here and read the review.

 

Henry Oldfield has an irrational fear that would shame any true blue Kiwi.   Kiwis aren’t blue, are they?  Henry Oldfield fears sheep.  You see, when Henry was a lad he liked helping his father run the family’s sheep ranch, and even more Henry liked the “Atta-boys” he’d get, which didn’t sit well with his brother Cain . . .  Er . . .  I mean, it didn’t sit well with his brother Angus. Cain?  What was I thinking of?  The Simpsons?  Never mind.

Angus, in a fit of  jealousy-inspired psychosis, kills Henry’s pet sheep.  He then hides in the barn,  covering himself with the poor creature’s bloody pelt then leaps from the shadows at an unsuspecting Henry, who freaks out.  Moments after that bit of filial hilarity ends, the family’s housekeeper shows up, informing the boys that their father was just killed in an accident.  Henry is sent to the city to begin a lifetime of emotional therapy.  Angus eventually takes over the farm.

Years later, Henry, a neurotic  who “does-something-on-the-internet-for-a-living,” returns to the family ranch to confront his phobias and sell off his interest in the family business to his brother.  Angus is rather pleased to be buying his brother out as he is about to unveil the “Oldfield,” his  new genetically enhanced breed of sheep, to a group of investors. So Angus is a geneticist?  Nope.  But he does have an illegal lab on-site ran by the amoral Dr. Rush.

After a rather brief and cold conversation between Henry and Angus, Henry is nudged by the old housekeeper to take a ride to the back forty with Tucker, the jaunty farmhand.  After all, how can he over come his fears without looking at a few sheep before he goes?

Okay, so we let’s take stock of the situation: A phobic hero? Check.  His trusty sidekick?  Check.  A greedy villainous brother?   Check.  A mad scientist?  Check.  Thousands of sheep?  Check. We seem to be missing something.  Let’s see now . . . Ah!  I know!  We need a love interest!  We also need a random factor that comes into play and gets the whole ball of wool rolling.  Enter Experience (Yes, that’s her name) and Grant,  two hippy environmental activists who hope to get the goods on dubious goings-on at the Oldfield Ranch.  They fit the bill nicely. Experience is cute.  Grant is a brick.  Both are parodies of themselves, but not unlikable.  You could probably write about what happens next without having yet seen the movie, but since you came here to read what I write, and not the other way around, I’ll continue.

While Henry is sweating out his homecoming, the duo of Experience and Grant are poking around the ranch and come upon Dr. Rush’s lab.  Just after they settle in to observe the lab, Dr. Rush and her inept assistants load a crate containing “the Oldfield,” Angus’ prize sheep, onto a truck.  One of the minions sets down a portable cooler he was carrying to help the others with the crate.  Grant, seeing his big moment to impress Experience and gather some “evidence” runs from their hiding place toward the cooler, which has a big fat bio hazard sticker on the lid.  On opening it, he discovers some rather nasty looking jars full of nasty looking brownish liquidy bleeccch.  He grabs one and runs for it.

Grant’s not remotely slick or quiet  The evil toadies notice his activities and give chase, yet  prove too dumb to catch him.  During the chase Experience and Grant become separated and Grant ends up breaking the jar.  And here it comes . . .  the jar contains a nasty baby sheep which bites Grant, infecting him with what is more or less a sheep variant of the “zombie virus.”  And this virus spreads fast!

All of this sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?  Well, that is just the set-up, which takes up the first fifteen minutes of the movie.  I’m not going to give you more of the plot because that would just spoil it.  Not that plot-wise  Black Sheep goes in directions that no horror film has gone before– far from it.   In fact, there is almost nothing in Black Sheep that is boldly original, but therein lies the charm.   Jonathan King, who is both the writer and director, has made a movie that uses all the right elements, in all the right ways with a perfect sense of timing.  Timing, in comedy and horror, is everything.  Black Sheep moves between the two flawlessly.

The entire film moves briskly through the story with only slight pauses to catch your breath while the next sprint is set up. None of the scares or gags fall flat.

As I said before, Black Sheep is often on well trodden ground and this is especially true of the film’s special effects.  What is so special about them?  Nothing and everything.  All the effects are practical rather than CGI.  It’s horror done the old-fashioned way with make-up appliances, animatronics, and real honest to goodness fake blood splattered liberally all over the place.  Ah, lovely.   Creating a handmade realistic sheep puppet to have it tear the latex guts out of some guy while another guy off camera firing off blood packs- that’s artistry!   The effects in Black Sheep were done by Weta Workshop, the guys who did the effects for many of Peter Jackson’s films, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and rival the very best in practical effects.  Years from now, I would guess that the special effects for Black Sheep will hold up better than the CGI laden effects in Lord of the Rings.

I didn’t have very big expectations going into Black Sheep.  I figured that would be a gimmicky horror-comedy that would amuse me for and an hour and a half and that afterward I’d forget all about it,  like . . . erm  . . .  that one movie . . . I dunno . . .   I forgot.  Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality and fun of it.  I really couldn’t find anything about this movie that I didn’t like.  You should rent it.  Or buy it.  Or name one of your kids after it.

Starring:

Matthew Chamberlain
Danielle Mason
Oliver Driver
Peter Feeney
Tammy Davis
Tandi Wright

Screenplay:
Jonathan King

Director:
Jonathan King

Four and a half out of five Vincents

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