While vacationing in the Midwest, Judge David Johnson spent the night a creepy little town not unlike the one featured in this nifty little thriller. Nothing weird happened...though there was this burning sensation in between his toes for a week after.
A town on the outskirts of terror.
Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under) stars as a hapless guy caught up in the screwy happenings of a town located in the middle of East WheretheFAreWe. Is this town worth spending approximately 92 minutes in?
Facts of the Case
There's something squirrelly going on in the picturesque town of Rockwell Falls. When Steve Kady (Sisto), an investigator for the census bureau, is dispatched to the recluse community he thinks it will just be a routine visit. Something's fishy with the population books, and Kady is at first convinced it's just a bookkeeping error. All the records claim that the population has remained unchanged at 436 for decades.
Kady's time in Rockwell Falls is at first pleasant. The people are generally amiable, the home cooking is good, he's made friends with one of the deputies (Fred Durst), and there's a hot brunette giving him the googly eyes. But further unraveling of the mystery reveals that something sinister lies behind the façade of the idyllic town. Townsfolk come down with a mysterious fever and can only be cured by the resident unlicensed quack. Then there's the little girl screaming for help from the local hospital. As Kady stays longer and longer and noses around more and more, the terror increases and the final truth will be revealed and it will blow his mind.
Population 436 is not a bad little film. There's a lot to like in this unique suspense thriller, and fans of mind-bending horror/mysteries would do well to give this a consideration. Only the convoluted ending left me cold; the rest of the film was an enjoyable romp, almost like a slickly produced jumbo Twilight Zone episode.
Jeremy Sisto is very good as the lead, playing the generic clueless protagonist-on-the-road-to-enlightenment role with panache and class. It's usually an unenviable task, this good guy who slowly learns what's up with the goofy mystery. He's the conveyance for the audience to figure out what's going on, but Sisto proves to be an engaging guide. More surprising was Fred Durst, a guy who irritated me to no end in the rock world as the front-man for Limp Bizkit, but is appealing as the hapless, low-key cop. The humble deputy is a contrast with Durst's flamboyant public persona and it's a testament to his will that he made the character work. The rest of the cast is comprised of folks doing the weird country bumpkin thing well enough, though a special mention needs to be given to Charlotte Sullivan, who plays Kady's love interest. I guess her performance was okay, but talk about smoking hot.
Still, Population 436 is a story-propelled film, relying less on character arcs and more on the narrative hocus-pocus. Luckily, the storytelling earns your viewing time. The truth is slowly revealed, as it should be, though there is never any doubt that something icky is going down. To the film's credit, it doled out just enough exposition here and there to keep me watching, and as it headed toward the finish line, saved the biggest surprises for last. The final act is populated by a load of weirdness, and the desperation that sets in for Sisto's character is palpable, and effective. Rockwell Falls turns out to be a town-sized house of horrors, and there is fun to be had while Kady navigates it.
Which brings us to the ending. And no worry, this will be spoiler-free. The only thing I will say is that it's a bit too vague the film's good. I think the filmmakers had a golden opportunity to seal the deal and make this a thriller to remember (say, like Frailty), but the conclusion was just me. But hey, whatever, it might float your boat.
I dig the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation; it's clean and solidly colored. Two 5.1 surround mixes (English, Portuguese) and a French 2.0 stereo accompany. Only an alternate ending for bonus material, which is certainly different, but no better or worse than the original ending.
This is a decent thriller. Lots of tension and unease in the atmosphere, good performances and an interesting plot that loses its step at the climax. Still recommended, though.
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• Alternate Ending
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