TIFF Report: Black Sheep Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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[TIFF info page here.]

There are more sheep than humans in New Zealand. Rather a lot more, really. We assume this is okay because sheep are both docile and stupid animals but what if - shudder - they were suddenly transformed into a rampaging horde of carnivorous killing machines? The Oldfield farm has been in the family for a hundred years but when dad dies younger brother Henry moves away with a vicious, stress induced phobia of sheep leaving older, evil-er brother Angus to, ahem, mind the farm. Mayhem ensues ...

Angus, you see, has nothing but contempt for traditional farming and has adopted a program of aggressive genetic engineering to create a new, better sheep. The Oldfield sheep. But tinkering with genetics is a risky affair and when a pair of well intentioned animal rights activists accidentally release one of the discard samples they unwittingly trigger an ovine holocaust. One bite from this genetic freak has the power to turn a regular sheep into a rampaging bloodthirsty beast while any human bitten meets a horrible fate transformed into a monstrous were-sheep.

Black Sheep is a horror-comedy light on the horror - though not the gore - and heavy on the comedy, a sublimely silly premise pushed out as far as it can possibly go. Director Jonathan King wastes no time whatsoever getting to the meat of his story (Or sheep. Or humans.) plunging into full scale carnage as quickly as possible and maintaining a crackling pace throughout. The blood flows thick and hot, the wool white and fluffy, the dialogue and situations every bit as silly as you might expect with tributes to a handful of famous moments in horror sprinkled throughout.

The big stars of the film are, of course, the sheep. With effects handled by WETA - Peter Jackson's company, Jackson having blown up a sheep himself for Bad Taste, which was surely an influence on this - Black Sheep opts, gloriously, for an almost entirely in-camera approach to the effects work. No digital sheep here, nor digital blood neither. What we get instead are real sheep, specially trained stunt sheep, and a stack of animatronic beasts. And yes those animatronics prove conclusively that it is possibly for a sheep to be fluffy and fierce simultaneously, particularly when your muzzle is splattered with blood.

It can be surprisingly difficult to make an intentional cult film but King has done it here. The script is smart enough, striking the right balance between self aware cleverness and balls out gore, the effects strong enough, and all involved clearly big enough fans of the genre that everything comes together to capture just the right mood and tone. Very fun stuff.

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