So, the other night I found myself with nothing to watch, and decided to check out The Burrowers via Netflix streaming. Set in the Dakota Territories in 1879, The Burrowers opens with a scene of a family being attacked by unseen assailants. The next morning, young Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary) arrives to find the men slaughtered and the women missing. A search party is created to track them down. This being the frontier, it is naturally assumed that the attack and kidnapping were the work of a local Indian tribe. As their search progresses, it becomes clear that the attackers were not human in nature, as hope of finding the captives alive dwindles and the search party becomes targets of the attacking creatures themselves. This film was something of a mixed bag – it had a lot of good ideas that just didn’t come together very well.
One of the main things that led me to watch this flick was the fact that it stars Clancy Brown. He’s an awesome actor, who has had some great roles throughout his career, so I figured that his presence was definitely a plus. One of the major flaws with The Burrowers is that it doesn’t have enough Clancy Brown. He is not around long enough, and he is very underutilized. That was only of the many faults with this summer’s Cowboys and Aliens. If each of these movies had featured at least 35% more Clancy Brown, I think they would have done better. The guy’s the Kurgan, for Christ’s sake! How can you not want to put him in more of your movie???
Written and directed by J.T. Petty, this film tried to combine the Western and Horror genres, so points there, right up front. These are two genres that don’t typically dance together, so way to go, Petty, for your ingenuity. Petty has the Western side of things nailed – the film is shot very wide, and makes great use of space, with long, sweeping shots of our heroes and the landscape. The problem is that while the Western aspects work well, the horror doesn’t come across as strongly, and the two elements don’t blend as well together as you would hope. The second issue is that since most of the film plays out primarily as a Western, it plods along at a Western’s pace. All of the plot points are ambling, and nothing happens quickly, which makes it difficult to build up the sense of suspense necessary to make the creatures scary. This was the biggest problem I had with The Burrowers (aside from the Clancy Brown issue). Pacing and suspense are essential to horror films – if you can’t build the proper suspense, your audience isn’t going to be engaged when the shit finally hits the fan, or care about what happens to the characters onscreen.
The concept of the creatures is great. You really appreciate how much thought has gone into their physiology and behavior. How these animals hunt, feed, and behave as a group has been well thought-out and explained in the script. But their actual design is lacking. As this film was obviously working with a low budget, you don’t really mind the fact that, for most of the film, you don’t get a good look at the creatures, but when they finally come into focus during the finale, their make-up seems a bit uninspired. They kind of look like creature designs from the Silent Hill games that were rejected in favor of something more creepy-looking.
So while not a perfect film, The Burrowers gets credit for trying a lot of things that aren’t typically done, and for that, it is worth a watch. The final product fails to come together as well as you might have hoped, but it is a creatively-conceived film that works with a lot of good ideas.