Black Sheep is a movie Peter Jackson would be proud of and not only because it was made in New Zealand. It is a film that succeeds on all the levels a horror spoof should, hearkening back to Jackson’s Dead/Alive which represents one of the last great horror spoofs before Wes Craven took over. In a year full of spoofs that resorted to obvious humor (Severance), took themselves too seriously (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon), or were simply ridiculous (The Tripper), Black Sheep is a film that is original and does not attempt to anything other than throw as much blood at the screen and keep things fun. Without that sense of self-importance and with a visual style that lets the audience indulge as much as they want. This film is definitely not for the faint of heart!
But then again it’s not Cannibal Holocaust either. In fact it could be called the anti-Cannibal Holocaust because of the role reversal of the villain characters. In this film the villains are the animals, unlike Holocaust which is the only major film release to ever include real animal abuse and deaths, for the sake of the art form of course. Director Johnathan King has taken one of the most peaceful animals in the world (and sheep really are, trust me) and turned it into our biggest nightmare, and has done it in a believable way. Honestly, this low budget film has much more realistic animal behavior than the mega blockbuster Evan Almighty and some of the behavior the sheep exhibit is unbelievable. Granted sometimes dummies are used, especially for the attack sequences, but they seem like a better alternative to digitalized animals that a major production would have put on screen. Somehow the robotic and irregular movements of the animals makes them more effective.
Right off the bat, King demonstrates he isn’t going to be politically correct with this film as the first victims of a bloody sheep attack are ones actually trying to save it. Two animal rights activists rescue a sheep and put it in their van. It’s just too bad this one has blood lust. Well too bad for them, not for us who just want these PETA assholes to get it in the worst way. The fact that King satisfies that want is commendable as their death scenes feel more triumphant than any death in a horror film this year, and that’s just the first five minutes. Any film that starts out with such promise is in danger of never living up to the expectations set by its beginning, but King doesn’t fall into the trap of continuously delivering the same thing, instead he keeps the pace uneven and is able to surprise his audience – one thing the so-bad-it-made-me-suicidal Hannibal Rising never did.
But Black Sheep is never scary. Yes, there are moments that may make you jump out of your seat, but in the end, these are sheep, and they are not even black sheep which is contrary to whast the title suggests. King knows that he can’t scare audiences with sheep in a world when we don’t find films like The Descent scary. I know I didn’t. So what he instead opts to do is bombard the audience with as much gore imagery as he can, and his excess succeeds in keeping us interested. there are castrations, reproductive organs being bitten off, and mass slaughters that will delight people with black humor.
The acting in this film is variable at best. What the director is asking of the actors after all is to react to sheep doing terrible things to them. Not mutants or freaks of nature or even vampires… sheep. While the actors are too over-the-top in those instances, when the script asks for humorous dialogue or simple facial expressions they do not disappoint. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) revs up his chainsaw so he can lay the bloody smack down on some killer sheep only to drop it out of the moving vehicle – the reaction is priceless. The rest of the actors do well, but we are not here for the acting…
… we are here for the aesthetic pleasure of fountains of blood spraying all over the place. The film delivers on that a hundred percent. But what’s most pleasantly surprising is the epic cinematography of Richard Bluck who injects a little emotion to the proceedings. During one scene three people are sitting on chairs and talking and in the distance, against the horizon, you can see thousands of sheep running towards them. It’s priceless and a great signal for impending doom. Unfortunately, since the budget of this film is so minute, this is where the praise for the technical side of the film has to end. It doesn’t deliver on the editing side of things, even though it is appropriately short, because the jarring effect is so common here. One second we find ourselves looking at the torture of a dying character, the next we are somewhere completely different, made to feel something completely different. And the less said about the similarly structured, frenetic score, the better.
Still, if you don’t mind some cheesy elements including acting and score, and are just here for the visuals and humor you will be satisfied. And this film may even scare some people who scare easily (Wes Craven fans no doubt). I recommend this film without a lot of reservations. If you are a fan of movies and like New Zealand accents like I do, check it out. Movie purists and stuck up critics will dismiss this as a joke, and they would be right, because that’s what it is, unashamedly so.