With effects courtesy of Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop and an atmosphere modeled after Jackson’s Bad Taste and Dead Alive, Black Sheep piles on the comically excessive gore for its tale of a New Zealand farm overrun by genetically engineered killer sheep. The Lord of the Rings maestro, however, isn’t the only influence on writer-director Jonathan King’s horror-comedy, as nods to The Birds, Night of the Living Dead, and A Werewolf in London—the latter through a grotesque portrait of a man’s face transforming into that of a sheep—make clear both the film’s inspirations, as well as the cult-classic company it seeks to keep. Sadly, King’s debut offers a cheeky premise but little payoff, its humor so listlessly broad and its bloodshed so tepidly tongue-in-cheek that most of the post-setup action feels like an exercise in going through the motions. Years after a traumatic prank left him terrified of sheep, Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns from the big city to the family homestead, where he plans to sell his share in the biz to brother Angus (Peter Feeney), who’s secretly creating and planning to sell scientifically modified sheep. A couple of animal rights activists and one broken laboratory container later and the farm’s stock have become carnivorous, leading to a series of ridiculous scenarios involving a gun-toting grandmother, monstrous were-sheep, and a budding romance between Henry and hippie activist Experience (Danielle Mason). King’s direction is tight and his dialogue is sharp, but there’s little bite to the supposedly funny-scary proceedings, which unwisely focus on the humdrum protagonists at the expense of lavishing more time on the flesh-eating animals, who only get to truly shine during a superb rampage through Angus’s presentation to prospective investors. The lack of any vigorous satiric or allegorical energy is also responsible for Black Sheep‘s banality, though with a climactic cheap shot at Angus’s expense—involving the farm owner sans pants, smoking a cigarette, in post-bestiality bliss—King, on at least one occasion, manages to rise to the gross-out occasion.
- IFC First Take
- 87 min
- Jonathan King
- Jonathan King
- Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Oliver Driver
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