When my wife and I got married, we honeymooned in England. It was an ordeal as soon as we got off the plane. Rental car agency wouldn’t take out credit card. We had to call home to have money transferred. The woman at the hotel gave me directions that took us out into the barren British countryside to a dead end. The hotel we though we were booked at turned out not to be that place at all. We drove up and down that god forsaken country for hours before we found where we were supposed to be. But let me assure you readers in the UK. You motherfuckers were nice as hell when we stopped at pub X to ask directions.
During the drive, I was panic stricken; freaked out worse than I have ever been. Ordinarily my sense of direction is solid. I can blindly get from point A to point B without a map through a series of educated guesses but in this case I was separated from my reasonable point of reference by a couple thousand miles of open water that make it real difficult to turn the car around and drive home. The fear was tangible. I could reach out into the darkness and touch it. The sense that I might not be able to find where we’re supposed to be and that we were fucked beyond reproach was paralyzing. Obviously, things worked out in the end and we ended up having a nice time but I have never been that lost and I never want to be that lost again. Plague Town is a lot like my honeymoon in England. Only with fewer bad directions and British pub stereotypes brought to life and more homicidal mutant children.
Plague Town places your average dysfunctional American family on vacation in rural Ireland. They find themselves on foot after a bus drops them off in the middle of nowhere, walking along dirt roads, rolling grassy hillsides and dense forests. It’s quite scenic but what, exactly they’re doing in Ireland’s best representation of Satan’s asshole is beyond the reason of this writer. Things go from bad to worse when they miss the bus out of there and find themselves in the unenviable position of having to find a place to crash for the night or at the very least a phone. This is a horror movie, after all, so the smart money says that the locale is dominated by backwater hicks and thatched roof cottages without the modern convenience of telephones. It turns out that the locale is also home to a host of murderous, nocturnal children with a range of awful physical mutations and their parents who have feverishly dedicated themselves to cleansing their tainted bloodline with “seed” from outsiders.
I need to address this convenient horror device of placing people in remote locations where the busses don’t run and no one has phones. I’ve seen photos of mud huts in Iraq with Satellite TV dishes perched atop them. I’ve seen photos of poppy farmers in Afghanistan. Men dressed in rags, riding the burnt out remains of a Soviet made car pulled by pack animals while chatting with their buyers on iPhones. Can we please find a new means of stranding people in inconvenient places so to better isolate them for a massacre?
Plague Town represents director David Gregory’s first foray into feature films. He’s a seasoned director of documentaries and has directed dozens of featurette extras for DVDs relevant to the horror genre. To his credit is also a feature length doco about Mondo Cane and his documentary chops show throughout Plague Town as it features a lot of documentary style hand held photography. This is nothing new to the horror genre. Directors, for years, have been framing their shots hand held and using it to sneak up on victims as though their point of view represents the danger lurking in the shadows but Gregory has made a healthy living doing this and his hand held device works very well. The film is bathed in strange shots and smash cut editing. It’s because of this that it’s so deeply unfortunate that the cast and their nigh complete lack of acting skills drag the picture down into the briny deep.
Plague Town is, ahem, plagued with a cast that lacks anything resembling chemistry and when you’re an actor playing a member of a family, even a family that doesn’t particularly like one another, you can’t seem uncomfortable in your own skin as just about everyone with the exception of the brash Dublin boyfriend that slutty sister brings along to get killed. He’s not bad and while his smug “local” routine wore out its welcome in the first moments of the movie, his trials among the mutants are probably the most affecting.
While the cast is a detriment to the film as a whole, the script doesn’t help matters much, either. Gregory is on to something with Plague Town and it occasionally shows glimmers of great ideas but when the cast isn’t tripping it up, the inconsistent pacing and the exceptionally slow second act turns an entire third of the movie into a waiting game. But when it’s on, it’s on. Plague Town benefits, occasionally, from some gripping scenes of suspense and a couple of absolutely nasty kills. A half decapitation scene as a result of a tightened piano wire is the star of the show and explosive arterial spray makes for some bloody impressive scenes. At the same time, the monster make up on the mutant kids is often ghoulish and interesting. Plague Town’s signature mutant, an ivory skinned brood mare named Rosemary, is among the central creeps of the movie and her artificial doll eyes are captivating.
Plague Town feels a lot longer than it actually is. Ups and downs in the pacing make the boring parts seem like an eternity and good parts seem like fleeting moments of brilliance. With a tighter script and a capable cast, Gregory would have had a movie that worked on the same merits of a Hammer film. The direction is often fantastic but the script and cast add a giant load of baggage to the overall experience. It’s nice to find an original idea in indie horror but this one needs a little work.