Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Tasmanian tiger country
A UK region 2 DVD review of DYING BREED by Gort
 

Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt, and there's plenty in the recent Australian horror Dying Breed to test that particular idiom.

Let's start with the prologue, a dip into the past to give the audience an inkling of the danger that's still lurking Out There, into which our modern-day young innocents will then blindly stumble. Ah yes, the young innocents. See if any of these ring even a small bell. First there's Nina, a young zoology student whose sister Ruth died in this very wilderness while searching for the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger (an expedition our Nina is about to repeat). Ah, but a few quick flashbacks reveal that Ruth actually died after been captured and abused by the sort of psychotic mountain men that young city-dwelling horror directors just love to make movies about. Accompanying Nina is friend and fellow student Matt. He's a nice sort of guy but not interesting enough to warrant more that this short sentence of character description. His main narrative function is to introduce Nina to his childhood buddy Jack, who has the funds and the car and the boat they need to get to tiger country. Almost every such horror movie seems to have someone like Jack in the cast, a loud and loutish alpha male danger-magnet who stands on a flashing neon pedestal to wave at the monsters and shout at the top of his voice "Hey! Monster! We're over here! We're stupid! Come and kill us! Go on! I dare you!" Ten minutes of Jack should convince anyone he'll be dead well before the film's end, partly because that's how it always happens, but mainly because we'd pay good money to contribute in some small way to his demise. Completing the hapless quartet is Rebecca, who giggles at Jack's tomfoolery and also feels marked for the chop from an early stage.

Their first port of call is a ramshackle back-wood community whose bar is peppered with oddball locals and whose washrooms are filthy and running with cockroaches. It's also a very long way from the nearest mobile phone mast, announced in the traditional manner when Rebecca holds up her phone and complains that there's no signal. Oh, that means they're isolated then. Bummer. And there's something creeping around in the woods, something that's good enough to carry the camera so we can see what it sees rather than what it looks like. At least for now. And the locals all know who or what it is but they're saying nothing, at least not to these interfering city folks.

OK, it's easy to be cynical, but that's because there's plenty to get cynical about. Like so many of its modern American genre brethren, Dying Breed is not looking to be original but to provide a slightly different spin on a tried and tested (or should that be well-worn?) formula. If that works for you then the film itself is at least assembled with some confidence. The deep forest locations and mobile camerawork do create an effectively ominous atmosphere, one the super-sinister music then does its best to overstate by turning almost every move the group make into a step towards doom. The performances are a little variable, with Nathan Phillips' annoying Jack balanced by some nicely low-key work from Mirrah Foulkes and Melanie Vallejo as Nina and Rececca. The pair are at their most engagingly natural in a short but really well handled bathroom bonding scene, though I'm still not completely sure about Nina's Oirish accent.

The twin legends at the film's core are both factually based. The Tasmanian tiger, or Thylacine, was a large, carnivorous marsupial that is thought to have become extinct in Tasmania in the 1930s, while Alexander Pearce, the Irish convict who features in the prologue and from whom the film's skulking monster has apparently descended, was hanged for murder and cannibalism in Tasmania in 1824. But with the Pearce story getting more considered (if no less gruesome) treatment in Jonathan Auf Der Heide's Van Diemen's Land this very year, the springboard connection to this dark corner of Australian history gets a little lost in the film's overwhelming aura of déjà-vu, coming as it does after the sequels, remakes and offshoots of Wes Craven's legendary 1977 The Hills Have Eyes have pummeled the concept into the ground. And for a recent genre work it's surprisingly shy about some of its makeup effects, while the limp resolution too obviously signals the stock twist ending still to come.

sound and vision

A solid anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer with consistently good contrast, toned down brightness and a deliberately (and effectively) muted colour palette, which is achieved without the usual recourse to heavy-handed post-production filtration. Sharpness is also rather good without reaching reference quality – it's a transfer that feels right for the film without showing off about it.

Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are on offer. The surrounds are employed for ambient, music and specific sound effects (the early film plane landing roars from rear to front as the aircraft pops into view) on the 5.1 and the LFE sometimes has considerable kick – too much in places, as the bass beat of the title music acts like a rhythmic bash on the head. The stereo 2.0 track is less inclusive but a little easier on the temples.

extra features

Only a Trailer (1:36), which is structured as you might expect but still a rather good sell that gives you just enough of an image to suggest something horrible without revealing what you're actually catching a glimpse of. It does give the game away somewhat about what really lies in wait for the visitors, though, and even includes footage from the supposedly surprise ending, including part of the final shot, so don't watch this before the film.

summary

One for genre devotees who just can't get enough of the City Kids Fall Victim to Mountain Crazies sub-genre, though even they should be prepared to be just a little short-changed by the visceral elements. Picture and sound are good enough on DNC's DVD, but with no real extra features the disc has to stand on the quality of the main feature alone, and for this increasingly jaded horror fan that, sadly, ain't quite enough.

Dying Breed

Australia 2008
88 mins
directors
Jody Dwyer
starring
Nathan Phillips
Leigh Whannell
Bille Brown
Mirrah Foulkes
Melanie Vallejo

DVD details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Trailer
distributor
DNC Entertainment
release date
28 September 2008
review posted
26 September 2009

See all of Gort's reviews