July 12, 2007

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Black Sheep (PG-13)
Mutton or the means of human destruction? Black Sheep shows what happens when our fleecy friends go bad.

Henry (Nathan Meister) grew up on a New Zealand sheep farm but due to a traumatic childhood experience involving a gory practical joke by his older brother Angus (Peter Feeney), he now verges on breakdown when he finds himself in a taxi surrounded by a flock of sheep. (According to an article National Geographic’s Web site, sheep outnumber humans on New Zealand by more than 11 to 1.)

When he gets to his family’s country farm, he tells the taxi driver to keep the meter running, he’s just going in to sell his brother his share and get the heck away from all this wool. But some “old time’s sake”s from the family housekeeper Mrs. Mac (Glenis Levestam) send Henry out for a tense drive around the farm for what he hopes will be the last time.

Meanwhile, on a different part of his family’s property, scientists employed by Angus are throwing out some kind of toxic material. Environmental activists Experience (Danielle Mason) and Grant (Oliver Driver) are watching and an overenthusiastic Grant leaps out of his hiding space to grab one of the vials full of biohazard. The pair run into a wooden area where Grant trips and the contents of the vial spill out. What was inside? Why, a bloodthirsty lamb, which leaps up and bites Grant on the ear. Grant manages to yank the lamb off and it limps into a field where it finds and bites another sheep. Vegetarian Grant, meanwhile, surprises himself by suddenly developing a hunger for live rabbit.

By the time Henry and farm hand Tucker (Tammy Davis) meet up with Experience, strange things are already happening on the farm. They go to check out smoke coming from the kitchen window and find the home’s owner dead and a bloody-mouthed sheep raring for more meat. As the humans try to fight off the wooly onslaught, a few are bitten and start to develop bloodthirsty sheep properties.

Sheep attack! Do you really need to know any more about this movie to want to see it?

Black Sheep doesn’t exactly use the Cadillac of killer-sheep special effects but it makes good use of what it has, namely increasingly freaky shots of sheep — singular, in pairs and eventually in great charging flocks. The sheep are, as Henry always suspected, evil and Angus is, the movie starts to suggest, a little too friendly with them. Black Sheep is dirty and bloody and a bit amateurish but it is also hilarious and giddily entertaining. It’s The Birds with silly hippy jokes in place of Hitchcockian suspense and artistry. The movie features moments of actual fright (a rarity in most horror movies) and a good-natured attitude about its low-rent goofiness. B+

Rated PG-13. Written and directed by Jonathan King, Black Sheep is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by The Weinstein Company and IFC First Take. The movie is available to Comcast cable customers in the IFC Films On Demand portion of the On Demand movie options.