Plague Town (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes a quick trip to an unfortunately named Irish town...
A man and his adult daughters take a trip to Ireland to get to know their new, soon to be stepmother. Tagging along is the oldest daughter’s British boyfriend. The group quickly devolves into petty arguments and becomes lost in the wilderness. After missing the bus back to the hotel, they find refuge in an abandoned car, and try to wait out the night. Unfortunately, the natives aren’t particularly polite.
Plague Town isn’t a very original film. The story is filled with ‘wrong place/wrong time’ movie clichés. Dysfunctional family unit? Check. Rural setting, complete with assumed inbred natives? Check. Creepy housing unit that should probably be left alone? Checkeroony. Director/co-writer David Gregory, who’s best known for his featurettes and documentaries like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth, borrows from more than TCM, though. His other influences include Night of the Living Dead, Deliverance, The Wicker Man, and most interestingly, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child (which Gregory directed DVD extras for two years ago).
Gregory pushes the clichés too far in some cases, like the bitchy, slutty older sister, but others are comparatively subtle enough to work, like the new step-mother, who’s actually nice, and the drunken boyfriend, who’s actually pretty charming. The make it or break it character for most audiences will be the lead, Molly, who I thought was well rounded character considering the context. Fans of these types of films know that the first 30 minutes are about character establishment, and that usually the characters are going to be unlikable, so there won’t be many surprises in this field. It’s what comes after the first 30 minutes that makes the difference.
The plot doesn’t take overtly original steps, but it’s not entirely predictable. Plot might actually be the wrong word since I couldn’t actually some up the last hour. Everything that happens after the blood starts pouring generally makes no sense outside of the ‘these people are crazy’ explanation, which is fine considering the relatively hallucinatory tone of the overall production. Gregory has some great imagery to share with horror fans, including some indelible gore shots, but his editing and lighting leave something to be desired (likely due at least partially to budgetary constraints). The gore isn’t super hardcore or anything (it doesn’t push beyond a solid R-rating), but the violence is memorable, and almost entirely original too. It sounds gruesome, but I’m morbidly pleased at the realistic manner the violence is treated – i.e.: buckshot and beatings usually won’t kill you, at least not for a while.
Plague Town is, as mentioned, quite low budgeted, and it shows its limits in high definition. Details are pretty hazy, the dark scenes are often too dark to tell what’s going on, and there’s nothing particularly clean about the entire print. Edge enhanced black figures against lightened skies will likely frustrate some viewers. Jessica the bitchy sister’s yellow jacket does stand apart from the hazy blues and grays, but there isn’t a lot of harsh contrast or bright colouring to grab onto here, save maybe a little bit of the splattering blood, though even that is usually pretty black. The blacks are reasonably rich, and the whites aren’t too grainy. The dawn and overcast day shots are the most successful and clean, though some viewers might find themselves turning up the brightness on their sets a bit. I can imagine that these are the scenes that give the Blu-ray version the advantage over the DVD. The lighting during the latter two thirds of the film is so dark I don’t think the 1080p makes much of a difference.
Sometimes a low budget horror film should probably just stay low budget horror. This Blu-ray version of Plague Town utilizes the latest in technology, a DTS-HD Master Audio track, to tell a Dolby stereo story, and the effect is less than ideal. The DTS-HD does add some really impressive bass, but the surround channels are mostly left for the atmospheric music, and occasionally for other atmospheric conditions like crickets and the like. The really creepy elements, like laughing and crying children, are mostly centered. The sound design is still pretty effective, and the volume levels are set well enough to make intentions clear (even if the ooey gooey bits are too loud). The track’s major problem is with lip-sync, which is ok about 89% of the time, but when it’s off, it’s a bit annoying. For these reasons and more I recommend sticking to the PCM stereo track, which isn’t perfect, but has a warmer and more natural sound overall.
Things start with a commentary track featuring British gentleman director David Gregory, and American Joe producer Derek Curl. The star of the track is Gregory, who’s brutally charming, and full of information about this and other films (unsurprisingly, he makes documentaries about movies after all). Curl is mostly along for the ride, but offers some good information about the tooth and nails process of making the film on budget. Together the team is fun, and slather praise on their co-workers without sounding insincere.
‘A Visit to Plague Town’ (28:30) is a chat with the cast and crew. David Gregory and co-writer John Cregan fully admit to all their cliché driven plotting, and do their best to better explain their less than intricate storyline. The usually EPK stuff fills the rest of the space, including rough behind the scenes footage, complaints about dealing with the tiny budget, and blind praise for the film. The latter half is the most entertaining, encompassing the special effects process, and working with the unprofessional children.
‘The Sounds of Plague Town’ (16:00) covers composer/sound designer Mark Raskin’s work on the film. Raskin’s work with Gregory’s documentaries, along with some other aspects of his early career, is briefly covered before getting down to the brass tacks of Plague Town. Mixed in with the interviews is some behind the scenes footage from the filming, and footage of Raskin sitting at his computer with a cigarette and physically recording the music. Sound editor/foley artist Erick Jolley gets some face time in the latter part of the featurette, including some rather revolting footage of him coughing up milk.
The disc also features a Blu-ray exclusive extra – David Gregory’s college film Scathed (40:00). Scathed is a student film, through and through, with all the artsy lack of narrative that usually goes along with such things, but it’s pretty good considering, especially the acting. Sadly I’d rather they included a couple of Gregory’s documentaries instead, which kind of makes me a jerk. The A/V quality is rough, but plenty clear to get the gist.
Plague Town isn’t the most memorable motion picture, but it fits in nicely with a couple of other Euro-horror flicks that met with pretty good reviews including Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan, Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s), and Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire. It’s not actually a European film, but it has a pretty authentic feel, and will disturb most of the right people.
Sorry there aren't any screencaps. I still can't pull them off of Blu-rays, and the people at Dark Sky haven't supplied me with any yet.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1 English, PCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director/Producer Commentary, A Visit to Plague Town, The Sounds of Plague Town, 'Scathed', Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Gregory
Cast: David Lombard, Lindsay Goranson, Erica Rhodes, Josslyn DeCrosta, James Warke
Length: 85 minutes
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