Black Sheep



IFC First Take/Weinstein Co.

Clocking in at a brisk 87 minutes, "Black Sheep" is a giddily subversive addition to the age-old cinema tradition of the horror comedy. A New Zealand production from top to bottom, this bloody, deadpan satire is the latest release from the Weinstein Co. and IFC First Take. Grossly well-made in all departments, this could just catch on if collegians can pull themselves away from "Knocked Up." Ewe will love this movie.

Writer-director Jonathan King sets his angry-sheep opus on a picturesque New Zealand ranch, where, in a prologue, we learn that our preteen hero, Henry, has a rabid fear of both sheep and his annoying older brother, Angus. This wouldn't be a problem except that their father is the owner-manager of the sprawling sheep station.

The action picks up 15 years hence, as the adult Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), who apparently spent the intervening years far from country pastures and in therapy, returns to the old homestead. Since the death of their father, the haughty and greedy Angus Oldfield (Peter Feeney) has been running the family business. Henry is coming back only to sign over his half of their inheritance to his big brother and be done with sheep forever.

From this jumping-off point, everything that could possibly go wrong, of course, does. A dippy eco-terrorist, Grant (Oliver Driver), and his slightly more level-headed girlfriend, Experience (Danielle Mason, in the film's best performance), unwittingly uncover (literally) genetic sheep experiments Angus has been perfecting in a diabolical secret lab on the property. The result is mutant killer sheep run amok and Henry freaking out as his worst nightmare becomes reality. The bulk of the story finds Henry, Experience and strapping, sympathetic farmhand Tucker (Tammy Davis) running for their lives, from lea to seaside cliff to shearing shed to toxic sheep-refuse pit to the slaughterhouse, etc.

The screenplay successfully ties together our three heroes' quest to save both themselves and the ranch, while evil Angus and his stock genetic scientists/henchpersons-for-hire are about to welcome an international array of agri-business tycoons at a demo of his better brand of "animal." This outdoor presentation unfolds at the climax of the film, by which point what seems like millions of pissed-off sheep attack -- and more than one cast member is mysteriously behaving baaa-dly.

New Zealand's well-known effects house, Weta Workshop, led by multiple Oscar winner Richard Taylor (the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy), provided the special effects. Dave Elsey served as creature supervisor.