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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Population 436
Population 436
Sony Pictures // R // September 5, 2006
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted October 14, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Reach your hand inside a bag of tricks that sound like they could have been earlier copyrighted for 'The Twilight Zone' and you just might get Population 436.

Rockwell Falls boasts its own reputation as being the most perfect place on earth, and on the surface it does seem to live up to its reputation. The community is tight-knit and it's tucked away from the rest of civilization in a beautiful country setting. Of course as the old saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it usually is.

Steve Kady (Jeremy Sisto) is a census-taker that's been sent to investigate an oddity in the population there for the last hundred years or so. The population of Rockwell Falls has remained at 436 and some big wigs finally decided to investigate why. Steve's arrival is welcomed warmly with open arms and Deputy Sherriff Bobby Caine (Fred Durst) even gets quite hospitable. I know I certainly wouldn't mind local law enforcement taking me to the bar for a drink or even offering to teach me how to fire a pistol.

Unfortunately for those living in Rockwell Falls, the arrival of the stranger expectedly compromises everything. Kady's presence in town throws us into a whirlwind of predictability, as the offset of the population makes the wheels of suspicious events roll into motion, while the town hopes to keep Kady in the dark. Unfortunately for this film, its biggest problem is just how long Kady stays in the dark.

Queue the old time television announcer: What has caused the population of Rockwell Falls to remain idle for so long? Will Steve Kady uncover the mystery of Rockwell Falls? Will it be too late? Find out next week on...

It's a pretty basic plot that holds together well enough throughout the film in order to keep the ball rolling. Its charm for me was the very point I was picking on at the beginning of my review, that it seemed like a lengthy episode of The Twilight Zone. It's mysterious and predictable, yet somehow it kept me watching. I couldn't help but stick with this film to find out just what the heck was going on, predictable or not. Unfortunately poor pacing keeps this film from succeeding at hitting us hard and keeping us really interested. We get hit hard with a pretty thrilling beginning and things seem to taper off from there. The film clocks in at a decent length of 92 minutes, yet it could have gained some strength in the ideology that 'less is more' as I couldn't help but feel cutting a lot of fat off of this film could have made it pretty damn good.

Jeremy Sisto brings some meat to the film though with his acting. He always has a way to make his characters feel so natural, while holding you down in your seat with just as much intensity at the same time. Unfortunately his talent is mis-matched at times by the script. Population 436 reaches its run time by rolling out events that make Sisto's character suspicious of what's happening in the town again and again. The only problem with this is that it takes an awful lot for Kady to really start to feel the hankerin' to want to get out of the census business. I mean, a lot, ladies and gentlemen. Getting a gun in your face by a nervous farmer might have tipped me off, but I guess not Mr. Kady. It almost dumbs down the character compared to the impression we get of Kady by Sisto's acting. Quite a few times I rolled my eyes while thinking about how Kady wasn't getting a bit more alarmed earlier on in the film. Jeremey was able to nail his character brilliantly, don't get me wrong. It's just that we're brought way beyond the 'disbelief' border at how dense Kady is, despite how deep he appears to be the rest of the time.

You might be wondering how plausible a film can be with Fred Durst acting as the second most important role in the film anyway. All I have to say is, don't knock him until you've seen him. Durst actually plays the part of Deputy Caine quite well. Deputy Caine needed to be so nice that he would be unsettling. Not only that, but Durst had to convey that this hospitality was seen to be sincere in the eyes of Kady, yet suspcicious to the viewer. Durst had to downplay that Caine knew all of the secrets to Rockwell Falls and he pulled it off to a T. Don't be afraid to go against the grain and give him some credit just because he's Fred Durst people.

The film isn't bad by any means, it just comes across as being pretty average by the way it's presented. This film throughout its first half hour shows a lot of potential. After passing that mark though, I had to keep saying to myself 'alright come on, I get the point already, when is Steve going to'? Other than that I certainly appreciate its gusto to tackle a formula for mystery that's been used quite a bit not only for old television shows, but in parody as well.

Video

I was actually quite surprised at how nice the picture looked. This film has a lot of gorgeous shots and its incredibly clean transfer really does it justice. The picture is sharp. The colors aren't murky at any point throughout and the blacks are consistantly solid. I watched this movie shortly after seeing Silent Hill on DVD. I was thinking to myself just how much better the blacks looked in this film as opposed to some of the scenes in Silent Hill which had some noise or pixelation present. Quite astounding. Top this all off with an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, and you have a surprisingly great looking DVD for such a quiet release that was never meant to be part of a full scale theatrical campaign.

Audio

We're given a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This isn't the lower budgeted, flashy suspense movie the trailer made this movie out to be, so there's not much that attacks you from all angles in this flick as it's more of a slow building suspense film. The dynamic range is actually quite nice though and when appropriate, the sound is represented on all the channels the way you would imagine they should be. A 2.0 Dolby track in French sounds very nice, and from there there's quite a few languages to select from for subtitles.

Bonus Material

It's pretty much a bare bones release, which isn't very surprising for a direct to DVD feature. We do get an alternate ending though. To me, the ending for the version we get to see on this DVD just seemed like sort of a cop out, that they didn't really know where to take the movie anymore. I appreciated the attempt at the twisted ending (also kind of true to what to expect in an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' ironically), yet I felt the one left as a bonus feature works better. Not much better mind you, but it's nice to be able to see on this release.

Final Thoughts

Population 436 isn't a bad movie. It could have been quite good if it took a page from those rare films that sometimes skate by on 70-75 minute run times. It's nice when directors can recognize a film doesn't have to be at least an hour and a half long in order to be worth our time. I obviously can't speak for the intentions of the director, but as I said, there's certainly quite a bit of fat that could have hit the cutting room floor in order to make this film go from average, to something much better. If you're a fan of Sisto's acting, or for some reason can just appreciate films that are shot very well, then give this one a go. For anybody else, I'd only suggest a rental.
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