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The Burrowers Review

In recent years, riding on the popularity of the Saw franchise, Lionsgate has come up with a veritable assembly line model for horror film marketing. That's not to say they haven't been surprisingly selective in the kind of material they put out; High Tension, Open Water, and The Descent have all been relatively well-received and have found a decent audience, particularly Neil Marshall's nerve-racking cave-dweller horror film. The Burrowers, a straight-to-DVD release from the studio, is a surprise, in that it offers not only a novel setting but also more than competent acting and eye-catching cinematography.

A horror western is a unique concept that requires a masterful balancing act, utilized to great effect in Alex Turner's disturbing Dead Birds, released in 2004. Whereas Dead Birds focused largely on a single location and functioned as a psychological thriller, The Burrowers is much more in vein of a western, a rescue picture punctuated by the inclusion of a monstrous race of man-eating creatures.

 

In the badlands of the Wild West, several families are savagely attacked and dragged away by what the settlers assume are Indians. A rescue party is assembled and sets out to return the families home. Included in this party are grizzled frontiersman John Clay (Clancy Brown), the sly, gentlemanly cowboy Will Parcher (William Mapother), a former slave and now ranch hand and cook named Callaghan (Sean Patrick Thomas) and Coffey (Karl Geary), an Irish immigrant courting one of the daughters of the disappeared families. This is without a doubt an interesting cast, but unfortunately doesn't develop the characters too much beyond the sheer skeleton of their individual personalities. This would be excusable if the men were getting picked off by the creatures, but the plot languishes with a focus on their rescue trip.

Director and writer J.T. Petty clearly understands the structure of a traditional western, and maybe that's what prevents The Burrowers from achieving high marks as a horror film. The film fails to generate tension on the basis of the predicaments it throws its characters into, nor does it bring much to the screen as a creature-feature, since its namesakes make few actual appearances in the film. The design of the creatures is interesting, but is seemingly limited by the budget; consequently, you see them rarely and usually under the cover of darkness. When the big finale finally comes, after waiting a good hour and twenty minutes to get a close look at what's been keeping everyone on their toes, disappointment is bound to set in .

The Burrowers is not without merits however. The pacing should satisfy western fans who would be likely to classify this as a western with cameo appearance by monsters. The cinematography by DP Phil Parmet (who has a quite an IMDB resume) often stops just short of breathtaking as rugged vistas and grassy knolls fill the frame, regrettably more minute on the small screen. The performances are all solid, playing without that hint of self-awareness which dooms many a horror film by undermining the actual thriller elements. Petty's writing does spark with occasional, local wit and his Old West slang-driven dialogue makes good work of establishing the period setting, particularly the violent relations between Indians and settlers at the time. Special effects are decent but subdued, with a few glaringly noticeable CGI shots. Overall, this is an honest effort; a low-budget horror film that refuses to conform to current genre standards and, if you can look past the slow-moving story and a lack of creature moments, an effective western and a decent horror film.

DVD Bonus Features

On inserting the DVD, prepare to be faced with a slew of trailers rounding out to about 15 minutes. A theatrical trailer for the film is also included. The special features are comprised of an audio commentary with director J.T. Petty and actor Karl Geary, and two making-of shorts, around 5 minutes each. The first, "Making a Horror Western," is a typical talking-heads look at the making of the film, with anecdotes and mission statements making up the bulk of it. "Digging Up The Burrowers," the more interesting of the two, delves into the process by which the creatures of the film were brought to life. Judging by the considerable effort that went into making them look as good as possible, it's a shame we don't see more of them.

"The Burrowers" is on sale April 21, 2009 and is rated R. Action, Horror, Western. Directed by JT Petty. Written by J.T. Petty. Starring Clancy Brown, Doug Hutchison, Karl Geary, Sean Patrick Thomas, William Mapother.

May
02
2009
Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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