Customer Review

40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, unusual horror flick, April 25, 2009
This review is from: The Burrowers (DVD)
"The Burrowers" reminds why the serious horror fan must continue to scour the endless flood of direct-to-DVD releases. These films are generally lousy, usually quick, craft-free cash-ins, but sometimes a quality film slips through. I suspect the well-crafted "The Burrowers" slipped through because it is completely unmarketable. It's a rare horror-western that will leave many conventional horror fans wondering when the monsters will show, while those looking for a western may find the horror movie climax off putting. It's not merely a horror-western, but a moody art western and a slow-burn, atmospheric horror film, both of which will turn off much of their fan base. As such, "The Burrowers" is hardly a flawless film, but it's surprisingly novel and ambitious, particularly for a non-theatrical release. (Though, with a budget of 7 million, it's actually quite a bit more pricy than many theatrical horror movies.) Thrills may be in short supply, but it's a gorgeous, strange film, that steadily generates sense of dread.

Like many of your modern, artier westerns, "The Burrowers" has a thin story. In the Dakota territories a large family is attacked, with some members killed and others dragged from their home alive by an unseen, monstrous assailant. The locals assume this was an Indian raid and send out a search/retribution party to retrieve any survivors, though this party slowly discovers that the conventional narrative does not apply.

"The Burrowers" is a gorgeous film, and the sepia-tinged photography takes full advantage of the New Mexico landscape. Petty also displays a great range visually, sometimes abandoning the slow, steady style for a bit of fast paced action or a conventional horror scene. That said, the film is also quite dialogue and character heavy, with the main weakness that, though well acted, the figures are somewhat clichéd and not overly compelling. Irishman Coffey (Karl Geary) is the central everyman character, whose fiancée-to-be disappeared in the attack, while Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison) is the brutal, bigoted military man and Will Parcher (Will Mapother) is the gruff, no-nonsense sort who has difficulty accepting the surreal nature of the task. (There are a few other stock characters, like the sympathetic black cook and the young, naïve kid who needs to prove himself.) The characters are ultimately quite likable, when they're supposed to be, but they're never quite compelling. Related to this, the film is sometimes irritatingly PC, rehashing the same old tropes about abusing the Native Americans, killing the buffalo, racism etc. For once this material is genuinely related to the story, but it's still heavy-handed and repetitive. These elements are secondary to the mood and horror, but had they been handled more adroitly they could've lifted it to another level.

The strongest aspect of "The Burrowers" is the slow build, where the trappings of conventional European civilization are steadily stripped away as the party moves further from home, and the natural finally bridges the supernatural. Director/Writer J.T. Petty is careful not to give away much initially, building detail after detail: the mysterious wounds; the lack of the blood; the bizarre damage to nearby foliage and soil; the vague Indian tales of the burrowers; the paralyzed, buried-alive victims. Were a viewer to miss the first 5 minutes of the film, it might take 45+ minutes to realize that there was anything legitimately supernatural occurring. This is what I like best in horror, the almost imperceptible slip from the real to the unreal, and "The Burrowers" executes this transition with special care. When we finally meet the creatures they are not particularly stunning, in the final analysis, but this is an inevitable disappointment. If nothing else, the creatures are better than most and surprisingly good looking for such a low-budget film.

The conclusion will, no doubt, split audiences, as many will likely find it disappointingly conventional. The climax is merely solid but the film has a terrific epilogue that redeems it, and that brings the film back to its roots. "The Burrowers" ends not in horror, but in a bleak, hopeless melancholy driven home by the final shot. It may not be what most horror or western fans are looking for, but it has an impact. Check it out.

Grade: B+
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 26, 2009 6:14:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 26, 2009 6:15:16 PM PDT
Elaine says:
Just a slight correction - Irishman Fergus Coffey is played by Karl Geary. Clancy Brown played Indian hunter John Clay.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2009 10:32:01 PM PDT
Ahh thanks. Must've assumed that the guy on top at IMDB was the lead.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2009 3:31:53 PM PDT
Elaine says:
I've learned (the hard way, in some cases) to never trust the IMDb. Can cause serious embarassment when I interview genre folks.

Posted on May 12, 2009 2:22:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 12, 2009 2:22:52 PM PDT
Stanley Runk says:
Ah, ya got me at "horror-western". To this day I have yet to find a really good one, but I continue to search and search. Horror-Westerns are out there, but there is a lot of crap to sift through.

Posted on Jun 5, 2009 10:01:28 AM PDT
You can write, bub, but what I find more irritating than PC rehashes of old tropes are people who rehash old tropes about PC. Mocking it dismissively is soooo 90s. Don't date yourself, get a new thoughtless opinion soon so the kids can dig it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2009 11:08:01 AM PDT
What a laugh. Being opposed to liberal guilt isn't trendy posturing; liberal guilt is trendy posturing. People mocked it more in the 90s only because the 90s were more PC. I suspect we hear less about it now, not because everyone agrees that we should weep for the mighty buffalo, but because now many more do not. Doesn't matter though, my opinions aren't based on trends. This sort of sanctimoniousness was stupid in the 90s, is stupid now, and will continue to be stupid as long as it exists.

Also, you're complaint appears to be lifted almost directly from an NYT review of "The Goode Family." Good for you, that you get your opinions delivered to you daily. Now you know what you think is always fresh and relevant. . .

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2010 7:22:20 PM PDT
Johnny H says:
There would have been no quicker way to disengage me than with racist, PC nonsense... The story was balanced, believable.

The Dances with Wolves treatment would have ruined this good movie.
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