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Movie Review: Black Sheep

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Black Sheep is supposed to be a horror spoof, I guess, but it is really a one-note gimmick told by a lazy and redundant jokester who keeps on repeating his punch line long after it is over and done with. I wonder why no one told writer and director Jonathan King that his horror gag of killer sheep gets old really, really fast. But then again, even producers can get lost in a high concept premise and fail to see the forest. Or maybe, based on an equally shallow joke in the movie, they relaxed and reassured themselves that they were a tree.

This film from New Zealand basically takes the premise of zombies attacking humans and puts genetically engineered sheep in place of the former. Yes, there is a laugh to be had when the meekest animals on earth become the most fearsome critters after some toxic waste falls on some sheep and sets off a plague. It comes replete with the idea that getting ravenously bitten by a sheep will turn you into one, leading to a few amusing bits where humans turn into gigantic sheep. But these killer sheep are ultimately no scarier or more interesting villains than lumbering, attacking zombies.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThat leaves the human characters to do the heavy lifting of character development and this is one of the film’s great shortcomings. We get a hodge-podge of characters including Henry (Nathan Meister), who has an unusual phobia of sheep, Experience (Danielle Mason), an environmental activist who's against the domestication of sheep, her fellow activist, Grant (Oliver Driver), and a truck driver, Tucker (Tammy Davis). All of them are so thinly sketched, though, they merely become horror fodder to run this way and that.

Even the attempts at character humor feel terribly desperate and limp, no less the fact that a character’s name is Experience for no reason I can fathom. There is some beef (sorry, couldn’t resist) between Henry and his brother, Angus (Peter Feeney), who scared the former as a kid with a bloody sheepskin outfit (a scene the filmmakers think is a lot funnier than we do). But Angus’ eventual villainy representing corporate domestication of sheep is as easy as an on-off switch and the film just runs away from any social commentary it could have explored like George Romero did in his trend-setting zombie flicks.

The bigger problem with the entire movie though is that the horror elements of the movie are played way too straight, which is the wrong approach to take considering that killer sheep are not exactly believably scary. Edgar Wright’s horror satire Shaun of the Dead had its suspenseful moments but it also had the brilliantly comical aspects apart from the genre elements (the odd romantic comedy and the way the protagonists have a loafing, dead-end existence). This film makes no attempt to put any satirical spin on its horror scenes and just plays them repetitively with typical thriller music, as if the mere sight of vicious sheep attacking the heroes will keep getting the laughs. I could even imagine the Kiwis, who would arguably find this funnier given their thriving sheep herding culture, getting restless after a while.

The influences from Sam Raimi and fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson’s earlier cheesily comic horror works are clear. And like many lesser imitators, writer/director King has studied the words but not the music. Sure, his movie presents its share of tasteless, extremely gruesome slaughter moments to provide morbid laughs for some and turn off others, but he is not creative or clever enough to milk more jokes out of his bizarre premise. What made those previous classic zombie movies transcend the traditional horror elements were their constant pounding of over-the-top satirical comedy and, in the case of George Romero’s classic films, some insightful commentary on human nature and society.

So you think the concept of mutant killer sheep is the most absurdly funny thing you’ve heard? Then all you have to do is look at the poster at the top and think “killer sheep” for about ten seconds. There, you’ve watched Black Sheep and it didn't cost you anything as valuable as time or money.

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