TIFF Report: Black Sheep
There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand....and they're pissed off!
Henry, the youngest brother of a sheep farming family returns home to sell out his shares in the 100 year old family farm to his older brother Angus. Oh, did I not tell you that Henry is an ovinophobic? The man is terrified of sheep and has his therapist at arms length on speed dial. Henry discovers that his brother has been secretly running a reckless genetic engineering operation on the farm. Experience and Grant, two bumbling environmental activists attempt to expose Angus's genetic perversions and accidentally release a mutant lamb into the populace, infecting the herd and turning them into monstrous mutton mutants out for human blood. Henry must pull himself together to save the farm and the world outside it lest the infection spread to the rest of the world. You’ll never eat lamb chops again. The Black Sheep are cresting the hill and you have nowhere to run.
Black Sheep is flat out fantastic fun! It is a healthy balance of humor and horror, never shying on either, with a splash of bestiality. Written and Directed by Jonathan King, Black Sheep is every Kiwis worst nightmare. When you live on two tiny islands and you are surrounded by the woolly little bastards you cannot help but wonder what would happen if the docile and serene creatures suddenly upped and carnage ensued. You’re outnumbered twenty to one. You haven’t a hope in hell you’re going to make it out alive.
Oh dear lord was this is a funny movie. And it comes so naturally throughout the film. You laugh at all the right times. You groan at all the wrong times [Look for the offal pit. The offal pit!!!]. You gross out at the right times too. There were a couple jokes there I know we, the audience, must have missed because we were laughing too much.
Producer Philippa Campbell [not Phillipa Boyans, Todd] called it ‘State of the art Old Fashioned film making’. While Todd will protest there were no CGI effects in this movie Kurt and I agreed that we could only see one. No slag to the Kiwis but you can only herd so many sheep at once and the wide shot of the sheep coming over the hill during Angus’ sheep release party [did anyone else think Lion King for some reason?] looked to be the one and only CGI shot in the film. Everything else was real or prosthetic which is remarkably refreshing and a heck of a lot less distracting. And as actor Oliver Driver, playing peacenik activist Grant, said during the Q&A it led to a pure acting experience because he and other actors could focus on just acting out their characters and not balancing that with following a ping-pong ball on a stick trying to imagine a were-sheep or other bovine evilness [which yes is still acting but you know what he was getting at]. The larger were-sheep were very impressive using costume and animatronics we’re already familiar with from the first Narnia film. WETA just flat out impresses with their handy-work and special effects in this film. How could you be Richard Taylor being sold the pitch for the film and NOT jump on board with the project?
Homages? I think every horror film fan or viewer must go through this once and a while where they see something on the screen and say, ‘Oh, I know where they got the idea for that’. It’s a hard thing to shake because out of respect for the filmmakers I think you should never try to pigeon-hole a director like that. But, Jonathan King did cite American Werewolf in London as one of his favorite horror films and an influence for this film. Homage to that film was paid in full during a Were-sheep transformation scene. But then where else has he been inspired by other films and filmmakers? He wouldn’t say and I have no problem with that because his work does deserve to stand on its own merits. Though I will say some of the films being tossed around for jokes were BrainDead/Dead Alive and Evil Dead, two horror classics, and the American Werewolf reference was too obvious to ignore. Instead of saying anything King was happy enough to let his audience imagine their own links to other horror classics.
Black Sheep, please let it find more distribution than it has already, is destined for horror cult glory! It strikes the right chords between horror and comedy and soaks them both in buckets of blood and guts. If you don't see this film then I may just have to compare your cognitive fortitude to that of our woolly friends there. Highly Reccomended.