Some day soon, New Zealand will get its rightful recognition as the birthplace of some of modern film’s most gifted minds. Two of the most revered Kiwi filmmakers would be Peter Jackson and Jane Campion. But this charming country has also gifted the world such cinematic artists as Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro), Roger Donaldson (The Bounty, No Way Out), and Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War). Of course, the world should be taking notice of the imaginative genius currently embodied in the work of actor-filmmaker Taika Waititi. From the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows, to the Marvel series elevating Thor: Ragnarok to the sublimely heartbreaking Jojo Rabbit, Waititi may just be the start of a new era in world cinema born just southeast of Australia.
And to this list of inventive motion pictures I would recommend 2006’s Black Sheep. Not be confused in anyway with the apocryphal Chris Farley movie of the same name, this entry from “Down Under and to the right” is pure wacky horror antics that deserves mention alongside similar comedic horror films like Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. From writer-director Jonathan King comes this criminally overlooked gem that delivers on what we never knew we wanted in a horror film: zombie sheep.
The film takes place in the most New Zealand of places: a sheep farm. The film starts in flashback as we see how a horribly timed prank between brothers leads to lifelong strain and a fear of sheep. When Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns fifteen years later is ready to sell his share of the family business and obtain closure. Unbeknownst to Henry, his brother Angus (Peter Feeney) has been conducting genetic experiments with the family flock. And when a pair of environmentalists accidentally release an infected sheep, the horror and hilarity ensue.
Henry spends the rest of film facing his now legitimate fear of sheep along with the help of his friend Tucker (Tammy Davis) and Experience (Danielle Mason), one of the well-meaning environmentalists. Along the way, we learn of Angus’ plan to sell his bioengineered sheep to a corporation. And we learn of a serum that allows infected humans to become sheep and vice versa. The film is as gory as it is over the top and has plenty of surprises along the way.
Director King pulls out all of the stops in a style that owes a lot to early Peter Jackson a la Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive. It’s an even more apropos comparison considering that Jackson’s Weta Workshop is responsible for the astounding CGI-free special effects full of eye-popping transformations. The film is bloody, frenetic, and the perfect length at 87 minutes. This film certainly demonstrates a New Zealand sensibility, with its willingness to demonize one of its most iconic farming commodities. And the film even shows some shades of restraint. Without giving too much away, at one point in the film Angus succumbs to a carnal lust of the wooly kind. Thankfully, the film develops the bit in a style owing more to Woody Allen than Tom Six.
Hopefully, New Zealand keeps promoting its best and brightest in the world of film. Not sure how I would sum their style or if it can be summed up. But the appetite of film lovers like myself is best satisfied when it seeks out all that this new, promising, and a little out there. 2006’s Black Sheep would definitely fit that description