Dying Breed is to horror movies what your favorite sandwich is to meal-time. And by that I mean this: It ain't exactly new. If I described the plot like this -- four well-intentioned but ill-equipped young adults travel into a very dangerous part of the world only to become victims of something horrific -- you'd probably start yawning right about ... now. So on the surface, Jody Dwyer's Dying Breed is a pretty familiar affair. Having said that, it's still got quite a few more assets than many of its ilk -- plus it's actually kinda creepy, impressively well-shot, and really quite gruesome on several occasions. So while sure, it's a fairly familiar old sandwich, it's still a sandwich that was put together with some actual effort, which is nice.
A bit more specifically: Two young couples decide to trek deep into the island of Tasmania. One of the four is looking for A) a species of wild tiger that's believed to be extinct, and B) a few reasons as to why her big sister died in the area eight years earlier. Along for the ride are a boyfriend, a wise-ass, and the wise-ass' girlfriend. (I'm actually doing the actors a disservice by describing their characters that way. They're not exactly mega-deep characters, but all four of the young actors deliver some surprisingly strong work here.) The first stop is a pub that's pretty much crawling with sweaty inbreds and drooling perverts, but after one stressful evening the quartet hits the rapids in search of deepest Tasmania. And boy oh boy is something nasty waiting for them to arrive.
For all its conventional plot contortions and familiar characters, Dying Breed succeeds through sheer force of mood, tone, atmosphere, and (eventually) high-end and very disturbing mayhem. Turns out that the Tasmanian forests are jam-packed with all sorts of dangerous creatures -- and a few that you'd never catch a glimpse of on The Discovery Channel. (Can you tell I'm trying to keep the "villain" a secret?) If the movie takes a little too much of Act II to get well and truly "rolling," then horror fans will be pleased to note that Act III is more or less wall-to-wall lunacy.
Saw fans will appreciate the presence of lead actor Leigh Whannell, who does some fine work as the trip's semi-leader, although Mirrah Foulkes (the smart girl with a mission), Nathan Phillips (the hot-headed wise-ass), and Melanie Vallejo (the sweet and therefore instantly ill-fated gal) also manage to create characters just multi-dimensional enough to care about. Which is a shame because all four of 'em are put through absolute hell here.
First-time director Jody Dwyer (with the help of co-writers Rod Morris and Michael Boughen) combine a pair of old-school Aussie legends in this terror tale, and there's little denying that the movie sure FEELS effective. This flick could do for Tasmania what Wrong Turn did for West Virginia (I mean ... there must be SOME normal people there, right? Somewhere?), but Dwyer does a bang-up job of delivering a forboding forest landscape that's absolutely infested with dripping leaves, grungy pockets of light, icky caves, strange creatures, abandoned mines, and (yes) bear traps.
Basically, if you're looking for a horror flick that wants to give you a "you are there -- and it's freaking miserable" vibe, Dying Breed should fit the bill quite nicely. Some might say Dwyer lays out the "inbred" stuff a bit too thickly, but I'd say it's a dark fantasy story, and the extra-grungy Tasmanian denizens certanly do add an extra layer of ick to the proceedings. And that last act is impressively nasty.