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Black Sheep

Black Sheep's roaring success at film festivals' "Midnight Madness" programs is less a testament to its greatness than a sign of the overall weakness of modern midnight fare. Too many would-be cult movies place a premium on keeping sleepy people alert with dopey humor, frequent splatter, and the kind of quote-marked "fun" that leaves audiences with pained, plastered smiles. The gold standard for the modern monster movie remains Tremors, which combines genuine thrills with clever plot twists and distinctive characters. By contrast, Black Sheep has a bunch of one-note living jokes running around willy-nilly while being chased by killer sheep.

Granted, those killer sheep are pretty cool. With the help of the Peter Jackson-approved Weta Workshop, writer-director Jonathan King gets a lot of comic mileage out of realistic-looking non-CGI sheep monsters, combined with consistently funny shots of flocks of fuzzy sheep bleating and hauling ass downhill as ominous music plays. But while King's animals are awesome, his humans ain't much. Black Sheep's threadbare story concerns a sheep-shocked New Zealand rancher's son, his evil older brother, the brother's team of maniacal sheep-altering geneticists, and a couple of activist vegans who've infiltrated the ranch to sabotage it. One of the hippies is bitten by an altered sheep fetus, which turns him into a meat-eating sheep monster whose bite can infect others. And anyone who's seen a zombie movie can guess what happens next.


Had King done more with the satirical possibilities of Franken-food manufacturers and the anti-corporate mobs who detest them, Black Sheep might've gained the extra inch or two of depth it needs. Instead, the bad guys are generically bad, while the movie's heroic granola girl acts appalled by the ranch's feng shui one moment, and in the next—in what's meant to be the height of irony—cheers on the sheep-slaughter. Black Sheep is slickly made but not deeply felt, and while King shows signs that he may one day make a film as rich as Peter Jackson at his peak, next time he should try to get the audience to care equally about the eaters and the eaten.

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