Anchor Bay // 2003 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 1st, 2005
They're dying to meet you.
What, an unknown New Zealand director putting together his first horror venture about kids menaced by some hicks doesn't interest you? And that crappy, generic tagline leads you to believe this is just another low-budget, innovation-free splatterfest? Guess what. The Locals is pretty frickin' good.
Grant (John Barker) and his best friend Paul (Dwayne Cameron) set out for a weekend of surfing and relaxation. Grant's just been dumped by his girlfriend, and Paul makes it his mission to cheer his pal up.
As darkness falls, the boys track down a shortcut buried deep within rural New Zealand. They also stumble across a pair of heavily made-up girls, on their way to a party. Intrigued, Grant and Paul take the girls up on their invitation to join them. But as they tear down the dirt roads in the dead of night, a truck rolls out of nowhere, they lose control, and their car ends up in a ditch. They're stuck. Unable to free their car, the two friends roam the countryside looking for help. And that's when the Bantha poodoo hits the fan.
They are suddenly besieged by malicious "locals," crazy-eyed farmers uttering incoherent ramblings, and under the control of the murderous Bill (Peter McCauley). Survival becomes priority one, and while Grant and Paul try to endure the nightmare, they will have an enigmatic mystery to crack -- a mystery dripping with the supernatural.
Two young friends drive to the country, meet up with a pair of hot young women, and are soon terrorized by some mysterious psychopaths. On paper, the plot of The Locals does seem like that of every horror film made since the Earth cooled. But folks, take it from me, this film is the real deal.
First-time writer-director Greg Page comes through in an awesome debut, crafting a film that is as much thriller as it is horror. In fact, the thrills are what generates the scares. Grant and Paul are thrown into an insane situation, and the audience is thrown right in there with them. They evade death by any means necessary, be it reluctantly trusting one of the less-sinister of the locals or hitching rides with strangers or just nose-diving into bushes. Page has his share of jump scenes -- and they are exceedingly well-executed -- but the psychological suspense is powered by the threat of the unknown. What the @%$& is happening here? Truthfully, that's never really fully divulged. And it doesn't have to be. There are bits of exposition along the way, but the big reveal is merely a couple of sentences by the locals toward the end. The origin of the land's curse is never thoroughly unveiled.
Which I dug, frankly. Page opts not to go the explicit pie-chart route and spoon-feed his entire story to you. When the credits roll, you'll almost certainly be flush with unresolved questions, but that's okay. My only complaint, story-wise, is with the material that is revealed. It tended to be a little too convoluted, as if moments in the script seemed to get away from its director; a more streamlined story would have been appreciated.
Still, that didn't detract from the overall film experience for me. So much works in The Locals that the narrative missteps are overwhelmed. The characters are likable and believable, and the friendship between Grant and Paul comes across as authentic. These aren't two dicks willing to screw each other over when things get crazy. They look out for each other, are willing to risk their lives for one another, and as a result we care about what happens to them. Once that foundation has been laid, the extreme circumstances resonate that much more. So what follows is not an orgy of gore and sinew -- unlike the early work of that other low-budget horror filmmaker from New Zealand -- but an exercise in pure terror. The blood in The Locals is surprisingly sparse, so gorehounds, look elsewhere for your splatter.
Basically, Greg Page has combined strong, interesting characters realistically acting to an incredible situation, a brisk pacing (the 88-minute run time cruises by), solid production values, and a crazy and joyfully perplexing story into one of the better unknown gems I've stumbled across. Bravo.
The majority of this film takes place in the dark, over one harrowing night, and thankfully Anchor Bay's transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) holds up well. There were a few moments of shaky contrast and grain, but overall the picture looks great. Even better is the sound, a dynamic, active Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The mix pounds, and the discrete channels are often used to bone-chilling effect.
Besides a brief behind-the-scenes featurette, which is essentially a static documentation of some of the scene setups, the only extra is a commentary track by Greg Page. He's a talkative guy and obviously enamored with his own film, but in my opinion, that pride is justified.
A mega-entertaining little slice of edge-of-your-seat terror, done Kiwi style, The Locals is one heck of a midnight ride. Plot gaffes aside, everything works. Highly recommended.
Not guilty. Now get off my land!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Commentary
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette