Dying Breed (2008)
By: Julian on November 20, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Director: Jody Dwyer
Starring: Mirrah Foulkes, Leigh Whannell, Nathan Phillips, Melanie Vallejo
Writer: Michael Boughen, Jody Dwyer, Rod Morris
Country: Australia
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If you've seen Not Quite Hollywood, or any of the films it talks about (I, personally, haven't, and it's a task I'll be onto sharpish), then you've realised that Australia knew how to make a horror film or two back in the day. Chronologise all of this, and you'll see a bit of a resurgence in the noughties, particularly noticeable with one of the most internationally lauded Australian films of recent years, Wolf Creek.

Perhaps most similar to the Australian horror films made after Wolf Creek as far as budget and overall aesthetic is concerned is Dying Breed. The tale of a backwoods bunch of Tasmanian hicks plays it straight and wears its influences on its sleeve, particularly those of a Texan chainsaw variety, but it's a good yarn, aided by some juicy effects and a suitably grimy look.

The film begins with a prologue of Tasmania during its penal years, with a real prick of a convict, known as the "Pieman", making a swift escape from the Queen's men. He gets to a ravine's edge and, looking down the barrel of a musket, he decides… (to give it away would be criminal…)

Fast forward to the present: Nina (Mirrah Foulkes) is leading an expedition in the mountains of Tasmania that her sister died attempting eight years earlier – a quest to find the Tasmanian Tiger. She and her partner Matt (Leigh Whannell) are both convinced that the animal, assumed extinct in the wild in 1930 and officially declared so in 1986, still exists in remote parts of the island. Along with Matt's friend Jack (Nathan Phillips of Wolf Creek fame) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo), they embark on the search, crossing the Pieman River and into a town that is the very embodiment of the adjective "inbred": the pinnacle of civilisation for these people is a dingy pub that serves Tassie's finest amber.

Things go pear-shaped quickly – after the group hire a room from the publican, Jack discovers his car has been given a serious keying. A little bit later, he goes ballistic after catching a peeping tom ducking his head in as Jack and Rebecca have sex. Things get progressively weirder, and less benign, culminating in Nina witnessing a townsperson getting rid of a litter of puppies by decapitating the lot. The foursome concedes it's time to move on with their adventures, but they're followed. Things progress in a decidedly Hills Have Eyes fashion, axes-to-heads and all.

So it's derivative, without a doubt. Although with that said, as an Australian viewer I was able to engage fairly easily, and this is helped significantly by the fact that the Aussie element of the script isn't forced. Nathan Phillips' Jack is a pretty typical bloke and Leigh Whannell's Matt plays the understated suburban type well.

Whannell plays his first lead role since 2004's Saw. And it's a very good one – he's a versatile actor, and plays a really terrific part in the slightly neurotic and firmly-out-of-his-comfort-zone Matt. The leading ladies, Mirrah Foulkes and Melanie Vallejo, also turn in decent performances backed by scant CVs.

It's easy, too, to relate to a location like backwoods Tasmania as an Australian. The mountainous rainforest is fairly distinguishable, and only the most jaded of city slickers could say they haven't been in an Aussie locale like that. The commune itself tends to ring true as well – and if it doesn't, particularly to the easterners, I suggest you make some trips due west.

Technically, this is great. Geoffrey Hall's cinematography is excellent (he was nominated for two AFI awards for Chopper and Dirty Deeds), and the special effects are very simply and nicely achieved. Jody Dwyer's effort as director must be commended: Dying Breed is his debut feature and Dwyer shows consummate showmanship and competence.

The only complaint I would have against Dying Breed is a serious pacing issue. While the script does well in building character and not caricaturing its subjects, Michael Boughen and director Dwyer keep banality going for far too long. Jump scares make for useful plot filler up to a certain point; it was tedious after the first three quarters of an hour in this film. And before I'm diagnosed with ADD, let me say this: character development is one thing, and plot filler is another. What I saw in a good half-hour of Dying Breed was pure, unadulterated filler. It certainly would've benefited had the reasonable 91-minute running time been pared down, or had the action itself been spread more evenly. 

Two theatrical posters were released for Dying Breed – one was an understated family tree design inscribed in blood, which formed the letters of the title. This, presumably, was the alternative for the much-maligned original: a meat pie broken in half, spilling out fingers, eyeballs and other human remains. The sheer viscera of the advertising had the high horses bolting, and some were swapped for the more inoffensive version.

Bottom line? Go see it. Dying Breed is a decent horror exercise. It's not particularly scary, nor does it have that insidious, keeps-you-thinking quality that elevates 'good' horror films to 'great', but it's heaps of fun, and quite technically remarkable to boot. Overcome the scripting difficulties, and there's an excellent movie there. Certainly worth your time and money, if not to support this industry than anything else.

And if you see Australia instead, you'll have me to answer to.
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