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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.
The 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen transfer here emphasizes Plague Town's shot-on-16mm roots. To wit: it's one grainy mother of a film. This, however, simply adds to the gritty fear generated throughout, though when run through digital hoops, a slightly artificial feeling is added to the grain. Otherwise there are no real problems to report. A very dark film, colors are subdued - even blood has a rusty look - and shadows (there are many) are appropriately deep and inky.
English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio pleases with a well-balanced mix. Much of the dialog is of course on the whispery side, but it's not a necessity to keep your hand on the remote to mitigate oppressively loud sound effects or music of the type used to create cheap jump-scares. Judicious use of audio design creates some eerie atmosphere with creepy crying and the like sneaking up on you occasionally from untoward directions.
English, French and Spanish Subtitles start things off, as well as a Trailer for the movie. An Audio Commentary Track with director David Gregory and producer Derek Curl hits the standard spots you expect from a good commentary, from the project's inception to post-production, while rarely flagging. Also an A Visit To Plague Town Featurette blasts through almost a half-hour of informative cast and crew interviews and plenty of BTS footage, while a 16-minute The Sounds Of Plague Town Featurette focuses on the composition of both the highly effective and eerie score for the movie and well-employed sound effects.
Horror movies without some looming pedigree, pretentious agenda, snarky attitude or huge debt to a superior original are hard to come by lately. As a smart, economical, gory thriller, Plague Town avoids all those pitfalls. With simple but not simplistic characters taking a harrowing journey into the seriously irrational, Plague Town does everything a horror movie should do, and nothing more. While that's enough, the movie does those things exceedingly well; from cringe-inducing violence to chilling terror, this is a movie to warm the horror-hound's heart, and as such it's Highly Recommended.