Is there any creature on earth less scary than a sheep? When I think "sheep," I think bland, mild-eyed creatures growing furry coats of wool for all those wool sweaters sold in LL Bean catalogs, not blood-thirsty freaks of nature, but when a film about sheep has the tagline, "There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand ... and they're pissed off!" -- you know you're in for something different.
Black Sheep, written and helmed by Jonathan King, takes perhaps the most innocuous creatures in the animal kingdom, and turns them into blood-thirsty, viscous monsters who can either eat you for dinner, or bite you and turn you into one of them. The film starts out at beautiful Glenolden Station, farmed for over a century by the Olden family. Elder brother Angus (Peter Feeney, who some might recognize from his roles on Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules on television), who's been pathologically jealous of his younger brother Henry (newcomer Nathan Meister) since childhood, has turned the family sheep farm into a cutting-edge, scientifically-focused business focused on breeding the perfect sheep. Henry hasn't been home to the family farm in years; he suffers from a crippling sheep-phobia that was caused by Angus horrifically killing Henry's pet sheep when they were young boys. As the film starts, Henry has come to Glenolden Station to pick up a check from Angus, buying out his share in the family business. What they don't know is that the genetic engineering experiments Angus and his scientists have been performing at Glenolden Station have resulted in a lot of mutant sheep. When a pair of bumbling animal-rights activists, Experience (Danielle Mason), and Grant (Oliver Driver) happen upon a mutant lamb and free it, they set in motion a chain of "were-sheep" infection that traps Henry, Experience, and farmhand Tucker (Tammy Davis) in Henry's worst nightmare come to life. Henry has to find the courage to face his fears, regain control of the farm, and stop the spread of the were-sheep infection before all 40 million sheep in New Zealand turn into blood-thirsty monsters turning on the people they far outnumber.
It's a great premise for a film, and King pulls it off quite brilliantly (think Shaun of the Dead, but with sheep instead of human zombies, and you've got the basic idea). Sheep far outnumber people in New Zealand, so King takes the question: what would happen if all the sheep in New Zealand suddenly turned on the people there? -- and turns it into a fun little horror comedy that's played well to audiences at film fests from Toronto to Seattle.
The film has great special effects pulled off by Weta Workshop -- the folks who handled the effects for the Lord of the Rings films-- that are sometimes almost a little too realistic, but hey, it's all just bloody good fun. The acting is solid throughout -- everyone seems to be having a great time, and they all seem to realize they're making a campy horror-comedy, not a serious drama, so they just take the premise, roll with it, and have a blast. When Angus starts showing some rather ... ovine qualities after being nipped by a mutant sheep, Feeney really rolls with it, having a blast as the bad guy whose evil plan has come back to bite him.
Black Sheep has distribution, opening in limited markets in the US this weekend, with releases in Australia and Europe coming this fall. If you missed Black Sheep at one of its many festival showings, look for it at your local indie theater. It's a great little flick to catch at a late screening with a group of friends, or even as a date flick with that special someone who appreciates comedy blended with killer mutant sheep. Black Sheep is one of the most original and fun midnight film fest offerings I've seen this year, and it's worth your while to catch it. Just don't plan to fall asleep counting sheep after seeing it.