I’m going to fight very hard not to use puns in this review…
How many times do we have to tell you. “Don’t fuck with nature!” The folks in this film obviously had their fingers in their ears when we said it the last time. I first heard about BLACK SHEEP when Moriarty reviewed it a few years ago here on AICN. Since then, it’s been on my radar, but I just hadn’t been able to track it down. But after watching NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, it seemed like the perfect companion for that movie given that sheep are just about as threatening as rabbits are, at least outside of these films.
BLACK SHEEP was surprisingly fantastic. New Zealand director Jonathan King is going for the same tone as Jackson did with DEAD ALIVE in this gore fest. There’s over the top comedy and gore from start to finish with most of the jokes being pretty good and most of the gore being pretty bloody. I was surprised to see WETA in the credits as the special effects team. For all of those who wondered what a DEAD ALIVE film would look like with the tech that gave you the awesome effects of LOTR, look no further than this film. Seeing these genetically altered sheep feast on a crowd of people (biting off lips, pulling out innards, and ripping off limbs) was something that I never thought I’d see in a film, but dammit if it wasn’t awesome.
The story opens on a ranch in New Zealand as a two young brothers begin a sibling rivalry that starts with a gory incident that leaves one brother afraid of sheep even into his adult years. Returning home, the sheepish brother Henry (played by Nathan Meister) finds that his sheep phobia is going to be put to the test. In a scene that plays as both ludicrous and terrifying, Meister pulls off this phobia pretty well as he is trapped in a traffic jam with a herd of sheep flocked around the entire car. Yes, it is played for laughs, but the effectiveness of Meister’s performance and the whole movie for that matter lies in the tender balance between batshit crazy and truly horrifying.
Director King does a fantastic job of never taking this film into full parody. The threat of these sheep is real and despite their placid demeanor, there is something menacing about the inscrutable stare these sheep have on their faces when the camera focuses on them. Even mixed with some over the top moments (there’s a scene that seems taken straight out of SNL’s Toonces the Driving Cat that is hilarious), the film maintains its horrifying tone until the very end.
The film proceeds to follow a headstrong environmentalist named Experience and her hapless soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend as they infiltrate (pretty easily I might add) a genetic engineering facility and make off with a canister housing a wicked little lamb. The lamb attacks the ex right after Experience breaks up with him in a gory scene that is both cartoonish and brutal all at once.
Did I fail to mention that there are were-sheep in this film? A bite from these murderous beasts changes humans into a man-sheep that has to be seen to be believed. Soon, the countryside is overrun by carnivorous sheep and equally carnivorous sheeple.
Like NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, some of the most effective scenes in BLACK SHEEP involve the use of real animals. Unlike NIGHT OF THE LEPUS which plays the whole film straight faced, this film knows the ridiculousness of its concept, embraces it, then makes a horror movie around it despite that fact.