The Burrowers (2008)

Directed By: J. T. Petty
Written By: J. T. Petty
Starring: Karl Geary
  William Mapother
  Clancy Brown
  Doug Hutchinson
The Burrowers

Normally the Wild West horror genre is reserved for dying franchise sequels like From Dusk ‘Til Dawn and Tremors, but occasionally films such as Dead Birds and The Burrowers attempt to inject originality into these wavering genre. Set in the 1879 badlands of the American Wild West, The Burrowers does a good job of making a smart, original horror, but suffers from poor plotting and some dodgy creature effects. It is convincing as a western, but less so as a horror.

When a pioneering family is brutally murdered in their homestead and the women disappear, Fergus Coffey and his trusted posse blame the Indians and set out on a rescue mission, desperate to find Coffey’s missing lover before it’s too late. Receiving little support from the single-mindedly aggressive US Cavalry, the small group set off on their own path to find the kidnappers, only to realise there is something more dangerous in the uncharted territories of North Dakota than a few angry “redskins”. Something nasty lurks underfoot, and soon their rescue becomes a quest for survival as the nights become a feeding ground for creatures with poisonous claws and a penchant for burying their victims alive.

Writer / Director J.T. Petty does not have a fantastic track record, having been responsible for the abominable Mimic 3 in 2003. Since then he’s been the writer for some successful computer game franchises such as Batman and Splinter Cell, but has done little else of note. The Burrowers gave him the chance to create the Western he’d always wanted to make, just with added monsters. The entire idea is Petty’s, from conception to creation, and luckily he makes a solidly believable western. Sadly, the horror side of the movie is lacking. The tension peaks too early and quickly becomes expected, while the plotting means there’s very little direction to the piece. This is a surprisingly minor concern, however, as a good cast and interesting story keeps the audience interested throughout.

The Burrowers has a recognisable cast, if not instantly nameable, with Doug Hutchinson (X-Files’ Eugene Victor Tooms), William Mapother (Lost’s Ethan) and the ever-dependable Clancy Brown bolstering the ranks. Our protagonist Coffey is played by Karl Geary, quite tragically best known for Mimic 3, but he holds the film together with a likeable, determined turn. A supporting cast of disposables is also at hand, and each person actually has a definable character, so their deaths are sometimes unexpected and occasionally very upsetting. For a fifteen certificate there are some really nasty moments, from gunshot wounds to bear traps to body-ripping grotesquery, and although it can be slow-burning stuff to begin with it does move swiftly from night to night as they continue on Coffey’s ill-advised attempt to find his girl, a trip that goes more hideously, horribly wrong as every evening closes in.

With a film that features an antagonist that is non-human, there’s always a danger of a laughable reveal. The “Burrowers” themselves are not a visual abortion, at least not until the finale. The “Burrowers” are initially shadows in the grass, scuttling along with P.O.V. shots or hidden in darkness, making them a creepy and nasty threat. In a final woodland scene there is tragically some unfortunate CGI, where less would’ve certainly been much more. The glimpses of models / animatronics are significantly more welcome than the full body shots that are clearly computer-generated. It is excusable, but only just.

Twisting, surprisingly nihilistic, confused but well acted and oddly likeable, The Burrowers is an interesting, uniquely designed film that isn’t quite compelling enough to be great, but smartly created enough not to be awful. Enjoyable, nasty and good fun… but ultimately flawed.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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