Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Burrowers

If you’ve been wasting part of your life reading this blog, you know I have a weakness for “weird westerns”, the blending of traditional western themes with horror. Therefore, I was really looking forward to The Burrowers, and I’m happy to say, was generally not disappointed.

In the American West of 1879, a family is surprised at night to hear shots and screams from outside. The women and children are told to go down in the cellar and wait until it’s all clear. The next day, Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary) shows up to resume his courtship of one of the women in the cellar to find most of the people have disappeared, with only a couple of bodies left behind. Logically, he believes an Indian raiding party musty have attacked and stolen the women. He rounds up some men from the area to go in pursuit, including John Clay (Clancy Brown) and William Parcher (Tom Cruise’s cousin William Mapother, very good in his role). They join with an ineffectual and incompetently-led Army unit for part of the way.

The only strange thing about the scene of the attack is a number of holes in the ground, with the grass around them pressed down in a counter-clockwise motion. This (as well as the title) is a foreshadowing of things to come, for it was not Indians who raided the farm, but a race of underground creatures. According to the Indians, the creatures emerge from the ground every third generation to feed, paralyzing their victims with venom, then burying them alive until they get soft and juicy. Supposedly, the Burrowers used to eat buffalo, but since the white man ravaged the bison population, they’ve developed more of a taste for human meat.

(On a side note, in order to show a social conscience, it seems every western has an Indian griping about the loss of the buffalo. I understand the use of metaphor, but it seems they’d use the complaining time to mention the arrival of the white man meant the death of about 95 percent of the Indians themselves. I mean, I feel for the buffalo, but genocide seems bad, too.)

I enjoyed the movie a great deal, but a lot of viewers seem turned off by the relatively slow pacing of the first half of the film, judging by reviews. I thought it worked well to develop characters before killing them, but some modern viewers may disagree. It may also get to some that while in most cases a western/horror hybrid is a horror movie first and a western second, here the western elements dominate. So if you don’t like westerns, you might want to skip this one.

I thought it was a well-written, well-acted movie with a nice visual touch. I like the way the sense of dread slowly builds, and the matter-of-fact way the culture of violence in the Old West (particularly the attitude of the Army toward Indians) is presented. If any of this sounds appealing to you, I think it’s definitely worth a look.

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