Quick Hit: Practical effects lead this western into some dark corners of American history.
I feel like Westerns have been making a comeback in recent years. Whether it’s the Western feel of films like Hold The Dark or Wind River, or the easily felt Western influence of something like Hell or High Water, it’s been a good couple years. However, one of the things that is severely lacking in our world is Western/horror crossovers. Westworld has shown that there can be some terrifying elements to the western – why don’t we have more of them? The only two that come to mind immediately are Ravenous and Bone Tomahawk. But luckily, Google exists, and I frequently find movies I’ve never heard of on lists that actually turn out to be good. That’s where today’s film The Burrowers comes in.
Set in the Dakota territories in 1879, a young family is attacked. Who are they attacked by? Is it Native Americans? Or is it something more sinister? A troop of men set out to find out. They feature John Clay (Clancy Brown, always solid), Will Parcher (William Mapother from Lost), and Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary). These men are eventually joined by a military escort led by the despicable Henry Victor (Doug Hutchinson). What Victor says is law out here in the American West, and he thinks he needs to shoot and torture his way through some Native Americans to find the white family. But Coffey, a young Irishman who is in love with one of the missing, thinks otherwise and his troop breaks off again.
Honestly, the whole Western portion of the film is terrific. So many Westerns are set up as slowly unfolding chases, and this is no different – the men think they are looking for a previously unknown tribe called The Burrowers. Unfortunately for them, a few things got lost in translation because really what they are looking for is underworld monsters that have developed a taste for flesh after the white man took all the buffalos from the plains.
It’s really a fun idea for a film, and it’s very well executed. Director/Writer J.T. Petty sets the stage and has a real handle on making his film reflect those films of years past. It even includes some great landscapes and shots of the land to further cement that. His creatures are hideous and scary, and obvious use of practical effects makes them seem so much more solid than most films seem to now. I also like the fact that he obviously considers men like Victor to be the real monsters of the story, as evidenced by his continued treatment of his fellow man, whether Irish, Black, or Native American. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, lends a lot to that.
On a side note – I’d like to mention that Doug Hutchinson is terrific at making you hate him. I remember that from The Green Mile, and here it’s no different – his Victor is absolutely the worst and makes you want to punch him in the throat.
Though the finale was a bit over-the-top – a few too many shots of Fergus getting all stabby could have really improved the look of those scenes – I liked The Burrowers quite a bit. It’s not going to win any awards, but I think most horror fans will be down with it. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"