Dying Breed – After Dark Horrorfest Review
The third After Dark Horrorfest (which bills itself as “8 Films to Die For”) gets off to a shaky start with yet another depiction of what can go wrong if you go wandering through the wilds of Australia. In this case, the setting is the island of Tasmania rather than the outback, but after WOLF CREEK and STORM WARNING, any city folk stupid enough to wander this far off the track deserve whatever they get – and boy, do they get it. The plot has Nina (Mirrah Foulkes) and three friends searching for an elusive tiger, long thought to be extinct. Eight years ago, Nina’s sister turned up drowned while on a similar quest, but no one seems particularly concerned that her drowning might have been more than an accident – even though all her teeth had been removed before her death.
It soon becomes apparent that tigers are not the most threatening predator in the area because the intimidating local residents are – you guessed it – cannibals. It seems they are descended from an escaped convict who survived in the wild by devouring his other convicts who escaped with him The locals maintain this family tradition, earning a living by selling meat pies that would do Sweeny Todd proud.
Following in the tradition of the previous Australian outback horror films, DYING BREED takes its time to get to the gore, spending its first half introducing the characters and getting them to their destination. The exposition is nicely handled, often through flashbacks, and the performances and the writing are not bad, but they are somewhat blunted by the fact that we know we are simply seeing lambs being led to the slaughter.
The cinematography does a nice job of conveying the desolation and dread of the wilderness locations (enhanced with some computer-generated imagery). Thankfully, director Jody Dwyer mostly avoids flashy visual pyrotechnics, resorting to shaky camera work and fast-cutting only during the violent action scenes – which in a way renders the gore far more discrete because you cannot get a good look at it. Which is just as well, because once you’ve seen one maniac’s bone-filled lair, you don’t really need to see another.
The story follows an old tradition that dates back at least to Lovecraft: inbred rural cannibals threatening those who wander onto their turf. This rather condescending view of provincial life is balanced by the characterizations: one of the city-folk is a hot-headed, angry bastard, and at least a couple of the locals have some sympathetic attributes.
Unfortunately, the script is not smart enough to work these potential complexities into a dramatically satisfying conclusion, instead opting for a cheap twist ending that leaves too many questions unanswered, such as: Are there really enough unsuspecting travellers wandering off the beaten path to fill all those pies that fuel the local economy? And: if the town has almost no women (a point made in the dialogue) and propagates itself through the forced breeding of outside females, can the local populace really be considered inbred?
Too bad. The quest for the tiger is initially intriguing, but it turns out to be just a pretext for getting the characters into danger. The early promise is squandered, leaving nothing but disappointment in its wake – a point only emphasized by a lame final shot showing that one of the victims captured an image of the tiger on a cell phone camera.
Considering the disappointment, one wonders why After Dark thought this film worthy of inclusion as one of its 8 Films to Die For. Presumably the presence of Leigh Whannell (SAW) and Nathan Phillips (WOLF CREEK) – prominently mentioned on the posters – was deemed enough to draw the horror crowd.
DYING BREED (2008). Directed by Jody Dwyer. Written by Michael Boughen, Jody Dwyer, Rod Morris. Cast: Mirrah Foulkes, Leigh Whannell, Nathan Phillips, Melanie Vallejo, Billie Brown, Peter Docker. Brendan Donoghue, Bianca Cutrona.