Plague Town starts fast and never lets up. The jaded horror critic may fight not to fall all over himself in slavish adulation of the latest indie favorite - in part because he's seen it all, and not much scares him any more - but Plague Town does pretty much everything right. As something of a Texas-Chain-Saw-Witch-Project-Has-Eyes kind of movie, there's not too many more precedents this horror could draw from in order to deliver the goods, but the welcome surprise is how original, assured and truly creepy Plague Town turns out to be.
It is an economical story, brutally told, of a small Irish village trying to remove a curse. In the past, a woman labors, in shame. She's afraid to have her baby, and a presiding priest knows why. The baby is born, the priest raises an axe, and blood begins to flow. Coming to the present we meet a vacationing American family. They're jaunting in the countryside with an Irish bloke, the pick-up of their sassy older daughter. Sharp, internecine words are spoken, (as they often are amongst a family under the stress of a supposed relaxing vacation) the younger daughter disapproves, and dad's new wife doesn't know what to do. What they shouldn't do is miss their bus, winding up stranded in the woods at night with furtive shapes darting about - strange cries from the trees.
As always happens, the group splinters, chasing after rescue, fleeing from the faces of malformed children, and soon things get really bloody again. If there's hope to be had from this movie, it may be generations down the road.
This brutal simplicity, and a willingness to appropriate liberally (but smartly) from classics-past, makes Plague Town a first-rate horror. Nothing is outlined, aspects are only sketched in. We don't get a whole vacation back-story, the family is just there. Characters don't soliloquize, painting portraits of the family dynamic; little things are said, gestures delineating the barest shadowy picture. It's all we need to find these characters real - so when, for instance, someone's head is sliced in two like a grapefruit, we feel - you know - sort of bad for them.
Yeah, it's that kind of movie, not only full of silent, scared-in-the-dark-woods tension, but also well equipped with shocking, gory carnage. And wispy demonic children darting about, committing atrocious acts. The beauty is, everything's presented with calm, savage assurance - minus all traces of Hollywood grandiosity, self-importance or hip attitudes. Sometimes the mish-mash of ideas seems a bit forced, as J-horror chills intersect with escalating levels of Texas Chain Saw styled insane delirium, but on the other hand you're getting the best of both worlds, so why complain? Even down to its understated mutant make-ups, (no Hills Have Eyes redux grotesqueries here) Plague Town hits the perfect tenor.
Full of solid performances, Plague Town scrapes nerves, serves up genuine chills, and doles out vicious violence without any pretense. Horror fans longing for straight-ahead terror and mayhem (with a little inexplicable ritual torture thrown in for good measure) will be pleasantly disturbed by this new entry in the lexicon of fear.