Back when I first saw The Locals on a grainy VHS screener courtesy of the L.A. Screamfest Film Festvial, I didn't know exactly what to make of this dry little thriller import from New Zealand. It seemed to be half a "kids gets lost in the woods" stalker-thriller and half a fairly amorphous "haunted patch of land" concept borrowed from an old Twilight Zone episode.
And now that I've seen the film a second time, this go-round courtesy of the fine horror merchants of Anchor Bay Home Entertainment, I can safely say in full confidence that The Locals is, indeed, half backwoods wander-thriller and half head-trip psychobabble.
Basically, these two young guys decide to hit the road for some male bonding time. They, unwisely, opt to employ a hidden shortcut during their trip into the New Zealand countryside, get their car stuck in a ditch, witness a brutal throat-slashing, get split up, and spend the next 60-some minutes wandering through the dark, occasionally bumping heads with A) a pair of dizzy blondes, B) two stupid farmhands, C) a mysterious dude who may or may not be friendly, and D) an intimidating ringleader / backwood patriarch who barks orders at everyone else.
It soon becomes fairly evident that there's something more than just a "straight slasher" concept going on here, but first-time writer/director Greg Page delivers a lot of dead airtime in between his not-so-startling revelations. Clues as to the "final twist" are strewn throughout all of Act II, which means that the viewer is waaaaay ahead of the two semi-heroes. And when you know what's coming well before the main characters do, it really helps if what's happening onscreen now is particularly thrilling or compelling.
For the most part, very little of The Locals is particularly thrilling or compelling.
Points to Page and his indie cast & crew for trying something more than just the same ol' slice & dice, but the material they've come up with is something that the veteran horror freaks will see coming a mile away. (See also the recent horror flick Dead End for a somewhat zippier take on this dated ol' campfire story.)
It's not a particularly bad little flick, but there's an overwhelming air of familiarity that's tough to cut through, and, for the most part, The Locals moves at a pace that won't inspire much in the way of "viewer charity." Still, for such a low-budget production, The Locals has its fair share of nifty little tricks; at the very least I can say I look forward to whatever Mr. Page comes up with next.
Video: Anchor Bay scrubs up this inexpensive import and delivers it in an as-solid-as-can-be-expected Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic aspect ratio. I could gripe about the blotchy picture quality in the flick's darker moments (which, considering that 90% of the action takes place in the middle of nowhere and at night, are many), but we're talking about a movie that probably cost the same as one day's bottled water budget on X-Men 3.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. And be warned that several of the movie's characters speak in low and growling tones, which means you'll have to turn the volume up pretty high, but then when those rock tunes kick in, well, you're gonna wake the baby.
Extras: There's a scene-specific audio commentary with the likably enthusiastic writer/director Greg Page, and the guy rattles and rambles quite colorfully throughout his debut movie. Entirely devoid of smugness or pretense, Page seems genuinely thrilled to talk about The Locals, and his sunny disposition made me wish I'd liked his movie a little bit more. Alas.
You'll also find a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that offers some on-location production footage, a few goofball actors having some fun at work, and a couple of looks at the practical effects magic as it happens. Also included is the trailer for The Locals.
The Locals sounds a lot like a story I've heard at least two dozen times by now. Sure, it's told here with a confident cadence and a relatively cohesive delivery ... but it's still a very familiar tale. Fans of the mildly creepy and Twilight Zone-y material should certainly consider giving The Locals a weekend rental, but don't go in expecting the next big cult flick.