The Burrowers Movie Review

Though it's been compared to the 1987 creature feature cum comedy flick Tremors, J. T. Petty's The Burrowers is a subtler, creepier effort that is rewarding both as a horror film and a period piece.

Ostensibly a Lovecraftian creature flick set in 1870s Dakota Territories, the film's monster plot is housed in a gorgeous Malick-like picture of homesteaders and Indians lost and wandering in the vastness of the American plains. And while it might have been tempting to get all political, the film eschews rough ideology for sweeping vistas, rugged men, tribal mythologies, and downright creepy flesh-dissolving grasshopper men.

When Irish ranch hand Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary, Horatio in Michael Almereyda's Hamlet) comes calling on his beloved Maryanne (Jocelin Donahue) on an isolated homestead, he finds the men of the family butchered and the women and children missing. The locals suspect that Indians are behind the rampage and they put together a posse, including two experienced "man" hunters named Will Parcher (William Mapother) and John Clay (Clancy Brown), to chase the kidnappers down. Acting as a translator, Parcher is informed by the Indians they manage to capture (and torture) that the family was not attacked by Indians but by something much more dangerous: the titular Burrowers. These monstrosities (possibly a subterranean branch on the human evolutionary tree) poison and bury their victims alive; only coming back later to devour them. These creatures pre-date the Indians and feed on humans now because the white man killed off the buffalo -- its nature's revenge in its nastiest form.

Much of The Burrowers' running time is devoted to the search for the missing party and these sequences -- men on horseback riding through long grass and rugged mountainscapes -- are expertly filmed and lit by DP Phil Parmet (a veteran of many horror flicks who got his start in documentaries). It's haunting stuff, these bleached out images of desolation overlaid with Joseph DoLuca's simple score, and it gives the film a dreamlike overtone. But director J. T. Petty (writer for the Splinter Cell video games) also delivers the gruesome goods that fright film fans will be looking for. The Burrowers themselves are meticulously designed (and thankfully non-CGI) and enjoy a healthy amount of on-screen time. Unlike many monster movies of the past -- where the titular beastie only shows up in the last ten minutes and is caked in darkness -- Petty brings these creatures fully into the moonlight. The effect is very Lovecraftian in its "cosmic horror."

What really makes The Burrowers so enjoyable is its low-key, simple take on the whole monster movie mythos. There are no drawn-out explanations (other than the Indian history) for these monsters and there are no moral lines drawn around their behavior. At its heart, The Burrowers is something of an existential film that slams home a resounding, though beautifully packaged, message: Nature's a bitch and nothing is easy.

Cast & Crew

Director : J. T. Petty

Producer : , Jason Shuman

Starring : , , , , , , Jocelin Donahue, Robert Ri'chard, David Midthunder,

Comments

The Burrowers Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2009

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