Premise: Henry Oldfield returns to the farm where he grew up (site of a childhood trauma that left him with a crippling fear of sheep) to sell his interest in the enterprise to his older brother Angus. However, unbeknownst to Henry, Angus has been conducting genetic experiments that has transformed the flock into a pack of bloodthirsty killers…and whose bite transforms humans into ovine monstrosities.
You can stop laughing now. Yeah, it’s a ridiculous concept–but then again, aren’t most movie monsters ridiculous, even the ones we’re supposed to take seriously? Taken at the surface, a human transforming into a sheep isn’t any sillier than transforming into a wolf or even a panther. It’s not the concept that counts. It’s what you do with it. Writer/director Jonathan King takes the concept and turns it into an energetic horror-comedy that often recalls the early work of another Kiwi filmmaker, Peter Jackson.
For the most part, the results are entertaining. King’s got a good cast here: Nathan Meister and Peter Feeney as Henry and Angus; Danielle Mason and Oliver Driver as a pair of left-wing activists named Experience (no, I’m not making that one up) and Grant; Tammy Davis and Glenis Levestam as farm employees Tucker and Mrs. Mac. They’re all fairly gifted comic actors, which helps because the characterization is very, very limited. In this regard I particularly want to commend Mason. Experience is a one-dimensional caricature of what “neo-hippies” are supposedly like; there’s enough people like her in the so-called “real world” to reinforce the stereotype, but not enough to justify it (see also: Grace), and to Mason’s credit Experience fits the stereotype to a “T” without ever becoming annoying.
The broad style of the comedy allows the admittedly thin characterization to work. King handles the themes competently, satirizing the trend in genetically-modified food without taking the anti-Frankenfood movement too seriously; even better, he’s able to do both without muddying up his themes (hello, Otis). The first two-thirds of the story are very strong, with many hilarious scenes, memorable dialogue (“Just the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this is going to happen!”) and great sight gags. The production values are fairly high, and many of the man-to-sheep effects are striking and memorable: Peter Jackson’s Weta effects firms did an impressive job on this end.
Unfortunately, it starts to fall apart a bit in the third act—the pacing slows down too much, there are too many cinematic references for their own sake (including a human-to-sheep transformation straight out of An American Werewolf in London), and the plotting becomes too predictable. Most disappointingly, there’s a fart gag where a climax belongs and many developments in the dénouement (in particular Grant’s fate) seem at best inappropriate and at worst like outright dramatic betrayals.
Still, I caaan’t (oops…sorry) complain too much. Black Sheep certainly isn’t great, but it’s certainly fun. King, his cast, and his crew deliver a horror-comedy that’s reasonably fresh and original. And what other movie will treat you to the sight of a man who has hooves instead of feet?
Moment of Zen: The final shot of the dog.
87 minutes. Directed by Jonathan King. Starring Nathan Meister, Peter Feeney, Danielle Mason, Tammy Davis, Oliver Driver, Tandi Wright, Glenis Levestam.