SciFridays: “The Burrowers”

Baddie – Oregon Trail flashbacks.

Lesson – Cowboys make almost everything cool.

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Lionsgate

HEY! Guess what? It’s WESTERN WEEK. Okay, not really. I just wanted to watch a Western. And also, I wanted to delve a little deeper into this ‘underground monster’ thing I touched on last week. So this week, I watched “The Burrowers”.

Here’s the deal with “The Burrowers”. It’s kind of a good movie. Rather underrated, I think. It never had a theatrical release, but did air at a film festival or two. A quick jaunt over to Google revealed it’s based on a short film (that I now want to watch).  It’s not a perfect film, and it’s not really a ‘horror’ film, either, in that it’s not very gory or violent. Most of the complaints online are that it’s a bit slow. To this, I respond:

It’s a Western. So, yeah, it’s slow.

It actually, in my mind, makes “The Burrowers” such a good film. It really stays true to the original genre, a western, while nearly seamlessly blending in the horror. It’s slow, and at times stagnant, but it features beautiful cinematography and sequences of quiet action in a natural setting. There is not a lot of architecture in this film, and it really evokes something new for a horror film.

That being said, let’s talk about monsters. “The Burrowers” features a pretty unique monster design, which I liked. There is a pretty good use of effects, but the blood/gore is minimized. Too much, honestly. I found that there isn’t really a good build of tension because the violence is quick and quiet. It takes the film a decent amount of time to figure out just exactly -how- the creatures kill, and when it becomes clear I found myself saying quietly, “Wow. That’s…that’s kinda messed up.” but there was not a clear feeling of terror, or fear, or tension.

However! This totally works (to an extent) for this film.  Westerns, for me, have always sort of equated with the sullen determination to survive. Violence, sickness, illness, injury, etc., are treated with casual indifference because it’s a part of daily life. The tension in this plot comes from the ‘unknown’, but because they spend most of the film assuming it’s the Native tribes, there isn’t a sense of the ‘unknown’ among the characters. So on one hand, the monsters are dealt with appropriately for the genre. On the other hand, it doesn’t make for a particularly effective ‘horror’ film.

Speaking of a lack of tension, it is my firm believe that things underground are NOT scary. An exception would be “The Descent”, for instance, where the characters are within the environment. “The Burrowers” goes through great lengths to establish mystery regarding the monsters, but they also go through great lengths blaming things on the “Indians”, and as an audience member, it just doesn’t do the trick. Additionally, attacks come at night, and the first of which is treated simply as desertion of some men, not murder. The characters don’t get concerned, so neither does the audience. So, between the lack of monster and the constant excuses, it doesn’t really come off as scary.

Guns. They're good for any monster. Maybe.

Lionsgate
Guns. They’re good for any monster. Maybe.

I don’t want to scare anyone away from this movie, but it touches on some interesting socio-political issues. Immigrant and Black American rights, for one, not to mention the Western purge of indigenous tribes and the over-zealous Cavalry.

Anyways, I recommend “The Burrowers” and I look forward to more stuff by this director. His horror films are a bit underdeveloped, but they make a passable attempt at historical accuracy and being a little deeper than surface value.

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