By Sybil Vasche
Short version: Don’t wear white when watching this wonderfully crafted first feature film from Jonathan “we need more blood” King.
Picture if you will, scenic green hills next to a panoramic view of the ocean, beautiful orchestrated music, and mutant flesh-eating sheep.
It could happen and it does in the New Zealand import Black Sheep (2006). In New Zealand, the sheep out-number the humans so a movie like this was just begging to be made and thankful for us, that person was writer/director Jonathan King.
A young man named Henry (Nathan Meister) returns to his family’s ranch in order to sell off his share of the business to his older brother Angus (Peter Feeney). But instead of the quick transaction he imagines and (he arrives in a taxi and tells the driver to wait) he gets sucked into a weird journey that will take him through his own personal hell.
It turns out that Henry is terribly afraid of sheep (the reason is shown at the beginning of the movie) and wants nothing to do with the ranch. But unbeknownst to him, Angus and some creepy scientists have been genetically experimenting on the flock. They plan to unveil the results of their experiments to a group of foreign investors gathering at the ranch as the movie unfolds.
Enter two inept animal rights activists, Grant (Oliver Driver) and “Experience,” (Danielle Mason) – He’s a hot head and she’s a righteous vegan who carries candles around in her knapsack for aroma therapy. Their plan is to sneak onto the ranch and take pictures of the sheep experiments. Grant runs into the barn where the lab is and grabs a sheep fetus in a jar. He’s so clumsy he drops it while running away in the woods. As it turns out the fetus is still alive and takes a big bite out of him, then runs away and joins the nearby flock (presumably doing a lot of biting there too).
Experience (seriously, that’s the character’s name in the film) gets separated from Grant, and this is a good thing because he’s busy turning into a were-sheep while she’s busy trying to hijack the truck that Henry and Tucker (a ranch hand) are in so she can get away.
But the sheep have other plans. (Insert diabolical laugh here.)
This movie is bloody and gory along the lines of Slither, but it’s done with deliberate humor, spectacular effects and surprisingly, a beautifully written musical score by Victoria Kelly. The actors are all unknowns (here in the U.S.) and I believe this is King’s first full-length feature film. It’s an amazing effort and a credit to them all that they pull it off and make something that is so graphic at times seem hysterically funny.
Lots of credit goes to WETA, Peter Jackson’s special effects workshop in New Zealand (many of the film crew including cinematographer Richard Bluck worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy). They did a fantastic job with the animatronics and the scenes where folks morph into were-sheep are amusing as well as technically brilliant.
I watched the unrated DVD version and in the special features there’s a little film about the making of the movie. In it the actors say it was much easier for them to act with the sheep puppets than against a blue screen. After watching the movie I agree.
There are some great performances here and I hope to see both the director and actors again in other films.