Death Race

Starring Leigh Whannell, Nathan Phillips, Mirrah Foulkes and Bille Brown. Directed by Jody Dwyer
Running Time: 91 mins
Rated: Rated MA (strong horror violence and sex scene, blood and gore)

There ought be a special G rating for films like this - not 'G' for General Exhibition but 'G' for Gore, for Gruesome, for Grisly and for Guts, simulations of which are spread around rather liberally. Fearsome iron mantraps, axes, a pick and a crossbow are among the movie's favoured implements of death and dismemberment.

In the wake of the successful low-budget Aussie horror thrillers Saw and Wolf Creek (and using stars from those films), Dying Breed is a nifty example of the genre. It is not for the faint-hearted, but it is made for those whose idea of entertainment runs to wholesale slaughter, the more explicit the better. The purpose is not so much whodunit but how many characters will be left intact at the end.

The script, by director Jody Dwyer in collaboration with producers Michael Boughen and Rod Morris, makes use of the legend that supposedly extinct Tasmanian tigers survive still in the deepest forests of the island state, and connects it, however tenuously, with the story of Irish convict Alexander Pearce. Pearce, known as "The Pieman' because he had been a baker, was hanged in 1824 for cannibalism, having acquired a taste for the flesh of fellow absconders when fleeing the penal system. What if Pearce and his diminishing band of escapees had dwelt in the selfsame habitat of the tiger? What are the possible permutations of evolution in such a case?

The contemporary storyline sees zoology student Nina (Mirah Foulkes) setting off into the wilderness to try to spot a Tasmanian tiger. She has reason to believe her sister found one on an expedition eight years earlier, before drowning in a mysterious accident. Accompanying Nina are her boyfriend (Leigh Whannell), his boisterous mate (Nathan Phillips) and girlfriend (Melanie Vallejo).

Things start to look distinctly ominous when they encounter a surly ferryman and his wild child daughter who bites. They belong to a remote tiny township whose inhabitants could be first cousins of the mountain men from John Boorman's Deliverance. Proudly Irish, they are. And what do you know - they make pies!

Bille Brown is splendidly sinister as the leader of this backwoods community and performances allround are effective. Visually the film makes a strong impression, both with its scenic views and its close-ups of bloodied, terror-stricken faces. The Tasmanian landscape, stunningly captured by Geoffrey Hall's camera, contributes so much to the story that it becomes almost an additional character. Music by Nerida Tyson-Chew is another plus, along with the production design by David McKay.

Anyone attuned to the niceties of Deliverance, The Silence of the Lambs and Sweeney Todd is well catered for in Dying Breed.

Hoyts Distribution Out November 6

Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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