August 23, 2011

The Breed (2006)

"A group of five college kids are forced to match wits with unwelcoming residents when they fly to a deserted island for a party weekend."

For quite a few years now, I've always got anxious when encountering anything labelled as "A Wes Craven Production". It usually means one of two things, either Wes Craven couldn't be bothered to direct the film himself or it's going to be completely crap. Sometimes it means both.

In this case, Nicholas Mastandrea, a former assistant/second-unit director of Wes Craven's, got his chance to shine. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, his effort shone for all the wrong reasons.

Before I say anything else, let me just explain that I hate dogs. Maybe hate is too strong a word but I thoroughly dislike the pointless things. After working at an SPCA for a year, being dragged round in circles by them and picking up bags of their warm shit, I really had enough of dogs to last me a lifetime. Dogs stink, eat everything in their path (including their aforementioned shit), have an IQ equivalent to that of a root vegetable, and demand far too much attention. Similarities to some of my previous girlfriends abound.

I'm not somebody who would ever be cruel to a dog but I'd never want to own one. I'm a cat person and they own me. There's no reason to have a dog unless you work on a farm or something where their instincts for herding and chewing everything might be useful. Locked up in a cage (what American's refer to as a crate) in somebody's living room is not a good life for a dog and, in my opinion, nobody should be allowed to own one if it can't live outside.

The reason that I'm telling you all this is that my previous experience with dogs had an enormous effect on my appreciation of "The Breed". I'm going to backtrack a little bit before getting to the use of dogs in the film though.

Basically, you've got Michelle Rodriquez, Oliver Hudson, Taryn Manning, Eric Lively, and Hill Harper all trying to be younger than their years and failing miserably while being menaced by a pack of feral dogs on an island.

Similarities to the opening scenes of "American Gothic" (1988) are so obvious that I'm not even going to dwell on them too much except to say that rich kids who can hire and fly planes aren't exactly anyone I can identify with. There are also a few nods to "April Fool's Day" (1986) although I expect that anything set on an island where somebody has inherited a house will seem like that.

The first noticeable big thing is that Michelle Rodriguez begins the film by trying to be pretty and feminine for once. Eventually she gives up and turns fierce again but it's not until nearly the end of the film so kudos to her for almost breaking out of her usual typecasting.

The second even more important aspect of the film is that the characters are all somewhat likeable at first especially Hill "CSI: NY" Harper as Noah who announces, "I'm a cat person!" Their actions are a little bit less stupid than those of most characters in a horror movie even if it doesn't do them a lot of good.

The real stars are, of course, the dogs. There are quite a lot of them too, mostly German Shepherd mixes (what we used to call Alsations in Britain), and all are surprisingly well trained. I have to give the animal wrangler credit for making them behave themselves but they are far from scary looking. The background story is that they are genetically altered research animals who are extra intelligent and more ferocious. Yawn! Where have we all heard that before in at least half a dozen other dog films?

Look, seriously, the only way that a dog would be extra intelligent is if you took out its brain and replaced it with jello (yes, jelly, my English friends, but it sounds funnier in American). That was strike one against this film.

Next, the dog attack scenes are beyond ridiculous when you slow down the action even more than the several times that that it's already put into slow motion for you. These dogs aren't attacking, they are playing! One particularly cruel moment involving a tan German Shepherd has the beast rolling around on the floor with his tongue hanging out in pleasure. I may not like dogs but I know how they work. Strike two.

Surprisingly, the air of menace is still reasonably well conveyed until the humans start getting picked off one by one and then it's just "zombie movie mode" all the way to the end. The film looks and feels like yet another "... of the Dead" clone/remake but with dogs instead of zombies including bites causing an infection and the very final moments.

"The Breed" is, in fact, so derivative of about a hundred other films, that it's almost the "Scream" of animal horror movies (which isn't at all surprising when you look at the director's history). Plot holes and continuity errors aside, I don't think that it has one original moment. There's even a spoken fourth-wall-breaking nod to "Cujo" (1983) which is completely unnecessary considering that most of the scenes are recognisably borrowed.

Even with all its faults, "The Breed" is still quite watchable and entertaining apart from a slightly plodding middle section. It looks and sounds good, the acting is credible, and it's not quite as superficial as it could have been.

I'm going to rate it as "average" because, although it's just not as well done as other killer dog movies, I almost forgot what I was watching a couple of times and nearly enjoyed it.

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