Horror is, generally speaking, the ultimate test for suspension of disbelief. For while every horror film reflects a very real set of anxieties they are usually couched in a completely far flung, fantastic bit of storytelling. Luckily many fans of the genre get hooked young and by the time their skepticism is in full bloom they have already integrated things like, photosensitive bloodsuckers, carnivorous, tentacled intergalactic fiends and transgendered teen camp killers into their accepted film world lexicon. By the way has anyone watched “Sleepaway Camp” recently? Am I the only one disturbed by how much Felissa Rose resembles an adolescent version of Sarah Silverman? Oh, there’s another feather in the horror viewer’s cap; compartmentalization. No group of film fans has a skill-set better suited for appreciating the good in a given movie and simultaneously laughing off what isn’t working, so that they can still enjoy themselves. It is a considerable strength, one that most reviewers and serious cinephile’s have little capacity for. And now without further delay, let’s talk about “Plague Town”
We meet the Monohans, an All-American family mess, as they are traveling the Irish countryside looking for Dad Jerry’s ancestral home. Jerry’s daughters Jessica and Molly are young adults who take turns sniping at each other and spend the rest of their energies chucking barbs at Jerry’s fiancée Annette. To ratchet up the familial tension even further Jessica has dragged along a smug English twit named Robin whom she picked up in London 3 Days before. In short order this sad sack set of malcontents misses the last bus back to civilization and find themselves bivouacking in a recently abandoned car in the middle of the forest.
Apparently lacking the good sense provided by the reptilian brain, certain members of the group decide to fan out into the dark woods to look for help. Robin gets shot in the face, Jessica hides in a creek and Jerry meets an end most foul at the hands of two mutant kids. More malevolent misshapen children come out to play in the woods and soon enough the other members of the party are either dead or in grave peril. There’s a prologue with a baby-killing priest and an epilogue of sorts explaining the mutant community’s plans for renewal; but mostly the film features young people running through the woods in spooky prosthesis playing childish games while they kill.
This film is a good example of where a horror fan might draw the line on what they choose to disbelieve. The reason for this has nothing to do with inordinate narrative outlandishness, rather it is all down to feeble execution on the part of the cast. Writer/director David Gregory didn’t craft a rare or inventive story, but it should have been sufficient to keep the viewer from getting sidetracked in picking apart the inconsistencies. The reason it doesn’t rise above that fate is that the performers outside of Josslyn DeCrosta don’t do the requisite amount to keep the audience from resentful drifting.
David Lombard who plays Jerry is best described as Peter Brady cloned in the likeness of a metrosexual Bruce Campbell. During his death scene this impossibly flat performer stands wide eyed and erect, and patiently endures having his cranium bisected by two mutant tweens wielding piano wire. This scene is reasonably analogous to the experience of watching “Plague Town”. Asking an audience to buy into a movie that requires them to imagine a tension that the actors (who are virtually drowning in the universe of the film) fail to convey is the same variety of impossible as expressing no discomfort while having the top of your head unexpectedly disunited from your body with razor wire
The problem of performance is rife; with actors smirking under make-up and even failing to convincingly bang a ladle against a pot. When this kind of thing happens every other fault in a movie is amplified. As horror fans we wouldn’t normally question the simple act of missing a bus. But with no characters of note to distract us from minutia we start to wonder how a colony of murderous freaks that is responsible for multiple disappearances in rural Ireland warrants a regular bus stop but not a single police visit. If the Melba toast cast wasn’t busy wrestling every line into an unconvincing emotional space for the entire duration of the film you might have patience and interest in knowing the subtext and metaphor at work or have the energy to ignore the poor soundtrack choices and spotty picture editing during action scenes. Had the acting been even passably bad we could admit that the atmosphere and textures are sufficient for an entertaining escape. Sadly “Plague Town” expectorates it’s contagiously under realized characters into the eyes of the audience so often that even the most forgiving horror fan might feel a little sick of trying to keep their disbelief at bay through the entire 90 minutes.