Dying Breed (2008)

Written by guest blogger Romina Nicolaides

Dying_Breed_Theatrical_Poster“Dying Breed” starts with a flashback of an escaped convict running from his British jailers sometime in the 19th century. When the soldier catches up to him, his pistol fails to shoot and the convict, a certain Mr. Pieman, proceeds to take a bite out of his ‘captor’s’ face; you see, Mr Pearce ‘the Pieman’, was a real life convict cum cannibal transported to the penal colony of Tasmania in 1819 for the crime of shoe theft. A promising if uncouth first scene…

Fast forward to modern day and we are introduced to a young couple (we’ll call them couple one) travelling to Tasmania to search for a very rare tiger, the discovery of which promises to make them if not rich, then definitely infamous. We’re gradually informed that several years previously, the same species of tiger was being tracked by the girl’s sister, who disappeared under dubious circumstances during her search. We are also shown paper clippings carried by the girl, AKA Nina, as part of her background research into the area, indicating that hikers have been known to regularly disappear in this part of the world. Unsafe much? Doesn’t matter! The Tasmanian tiger is begging to be discovered and Nina is determined to do that, whatever the risks. If she’s concerned about the disappearances is nothing that the film sought to elaborate on very much. There’s also some commentary from the locals about the possible effects that inbreeding might have had on the species’ disappearance but that’s more aimed at advancing the movie’s (weak) inbreeding agenda.

Couple one, meet with an old friend of the guy’s and his girlfriend, let’s call them couple-two, ‘cause it ain’t worth the trouble of remembering names, and the four of them head off into the Tassie wilderness to document the existence of this super rare creature. They load their pick up truck and dingy onto the ferry and off they head to their adventure. While on the ferry boat there, one of the four gets bitten by a very shoddy looking girl, in a clumsy foreshadowing scene. In fact, this movie relies heavily on foreshadowing and other classic cinematic tricks but it gets more points for effort than it does result.

dying breed movieThe two couples arrive at a sort of motel where they rest for the evening and have a bite to eat (in the form of some mundane looking pies) before they head off on their camping expedition. In more eerie foreshadowing, couple two are watched by a creepy teen while having sex (it would seem that everybody in this place is creepy so I beg your pardon if it gets a little redundant). Upon discovery of the peeping Tom, guy two, think American frat boy equivalent, chases him into the woods and beats the crap out of him. If Frat boy was going for likeability points, he fails miserably, making it almost ok that he gets killed later. His crass attitude and hunting of the local wildlife also puts him at odds with the Research girl’s tree hugging aesthetic. Incidentally, it is worth noting here that rabbits abound on this island and it is widely known that they are in fact edible. Make a mental note.

Throughout the film we also get flashbacks of Research girl’s sister while she’s being chased or tortured or having her teeth pulled. It is unclear whether this is further foreshadowing, or someone’s nightmare’s because it’s done so inconsistently we don’t even know whose head we’re in. We’re just told that after having spent two years in this place researching the tiger, the sister just “fell off the radar.” This also makes you wonder that if the sister failed to find the tiger after she spent two years here, what does Research girl expect to find in a few days? Of course, this being that type of movie, she is super fortunate to catch a glimpse of the tiger on her first night here, but that’s about the full extent of her good fortune as far as this adventure is concerned, it all goes down hill after that.

Dying_Breed_ 2008Throughout the film we are instilled with a sense of dread. The people are (dare I say it?) creepy, and I’m not just talking about the hapless jungle inhabitants, but our beloved pair of couples too. Nothing about them makes them likeable or relatable. They are simply character caricatures waiting to meet with the business end of an axe or a set of teeth, the latter being a very fetishistic element of this film. It relies heavily on false starts, cheap jumps and very ill focused foreshadowing that serves nothing to advance the plot. At one point for example, Research girl comes across a woman who is slaughtering a litter of puppies because their parents were brother and sister. Clearly this woman abhors this sort of behaviour, yet she lives on an island full of cannibalistic in-breeders on which she releases her ire just a little too late.

The first casualty of our cannibalistic jungle inhabitants is in fact girl two, the cheery girlfriend of the Frat boy. You can easily predict she’ll be the first to go because in typical horror movie fashion, she to make with the peen always gets it early.

The inevitable and unsurprising massacre comes to a crescendo when the remaining three go searching for her as dawn breaks. They casually stumble across a camp site where she is found swinging naked from a tree, a few limbs short. In an earlier scene we were privy to the girl eating feast, where one of the cannibals is shown munching on the whole foot, including her toe ring. These people are hard-core, much like their fugitive forefather, and they like their meat fresh. None of this cooking or de-accessorizing malarkey for them! Girl two’s death is of course followed by her boyfriend, the Frat boy, who has been asking for it throughout the film. In fact, I as the viewer almost rejoiced when the bear trap wrapped itself round his face. Cannibals-1, annoying Frat boy-0!

DYING BREED, 2008. ©After Dark Films

The remaining and more virtuous couple are now left to come to terms with the fact that they’re in cannibal/in-breeder central with no way out. Of course they get separated, fail to communicate, fail to use their heads or even stay out of the dark and dangerous tunnels any sane person would avoid when they know they’re about to be tartared. By some miracle of navigation however, they both end up on an old bridge, albeit one of them is above it and the other below it. When the girl looks like she’s about to get it by a guy with a melting face, she prefers to jump off the bridge than become breeding stock for these maniacs like her sister ended up being. We don’t know if she realises this herself, but thanks to the random flashbacks pertaining to her sister’s time on the island we figure out that this is what in fact happened to her. This is also highlighted by the fact that the little girl from the boat calls the sister ‘mama’ after seeing a pic Nina carried with her. It is at this point that the puppy slaughtering lady appears at the scene like a deus ex machina and decides to burry an axe in the chest of the dude with the melted face, exclaiming that ‘someone should’ve done that when he was a pup.’ See what she did there? All that puppy foreshadowing had a point! Presumably however, one is left to wonder why she’d never done this before and only left it until they had tiger hunting guests again.

Anyhoo, guy one manages to survive, mostly thanks to the puppy lady, and reaches the main part of the island where the police are called and arrive forthwith in order to take his statement. Despite the fact that his three companions have just been killed and he is clearly in shock, they let finish his cup of locally brewed tea before they allow him to make his way back to the mainland. Alone! After. Everything. He. Has. Been. Through.

The police head off waxing (ignorant?) lyrical about the island’s human meat pies, and within moments of their departure, guy one realises that there was some kind of paralytic put in his tea. The tavern keeper (what a shock, the whole island is in on this conspiracy) takes him to a back room where he discovers that Research girl was recovered from the river and is about to be used as a Pearce family incubator, i.e. to continue the infamous convict’s line of descendants. Just as he ruminates on the fact that they’re totally screwed, the little girl from the boat jumps on his lap and takes off her fake, but normal looking teeth to reveal a set of predatory, pointy teeth. She declares that she’s hungry before she proceeds to take a bite out of the guy, just like she tried to doing on the boat. The whole thing comes full circle.

dying-breed-(2008)-large-picture“Dying Breed” had a lot of potential as an idea. It uses inbreeding and the history of the Pieman as a sort of propellant into cult movie status but sadly the two tropes fail to marry well. Just because the two elements are standard horror movie fodder doesn’t mean that when they’re brought together they can yield a good final product. If they’d used the Pearce legend a little less superficially and done away with the inbreeding, it might’ve turned into a good film, but as it stands, they forced together the two parts to make it into something it was incapable of becoming. “Dying Breed” wanted to be “Wrong Turn” so badly you can virtually see it stomp its feet on the ground and cry like a five year old, but much like the kid wearing her mother’s shoes, the fit just isn’t there.

At first I thought the failure was due to its short length, but on second examination it proved to be the typical movie length of ninety minutes. More has been done in that window by shorter films so it couldn’t be that. The plot was sound in principle, (like I said, two good elements, that just didn’t go together) but weak in practise. If we exclude the fact that it wanted to be “Wrong Turn” so much, why did the island inhabitants even have to be inbred? Why couldn’t they blame the abductions on the lack of women due to the harshness of the environment and leave it at that? They’re within a short distance from the mainland, have access to resources (including rabbits remember?) and contact with people, so it couldn’t be that they were doing it to survive? The whole premise lacks logic and if you can’t give me the logic behind a movie then you’ve lost me. I’ve seen Fellini movies with more structure than this. Good horror isn’t just made up of the number of yuck tropes you can shove down the audience’s throat. Sometimes a little subtlety can be a lot more effective than full-on, crazy, inbred, cannibals with melted faces. The amount of clichés made it more caricature than horror. At least “Wrong Turn” had some sort of form where you could sense the isolation and the distance and even the ‘hunger’ in the ‘freaks’ but in “Dying Breed” the need to gross out the audience overrode the requirement of sticking to any form of narrative structure.

I get that they were going with family pride as their spin but either the Pearces are a small group of inbred descendants or the entire population of an island of crazies. The one certainty is that you can’t have both when your population is threatened by or even based solely on inbreeding, where offspring mortality is high. Either their genes are corrupted enough to produce Mr. Puddleface or the family are so branched out that the entire island is related. Puddleface and the abductions imply that their numbers are threatened.

Dying-Breed-2008Not to mention the fact that inbreeding requires women of the same family to multiply with. In this instance there is only one woman, who hints at reproductive difficulties but no others are shown or talked about. The whole inbreeding angle is confused and confusing. They’re inbred, only we’re unclear how. Do they abduct the hikers and the scientists in order to breed with them like in the case of Nina and her sister? Well, that’s a fresh source of DNA if ever I saw one and if Nina’s news clippings are anything to go by they’ve been doing this for decades, so how is that inbreeding? I’m more than happy to have someone explain this to me, ‘cause it lost me…

I can’t decide if I’d recommend this movie to anyone, but for me it did nothing. Once again I’ll disagree with IMDB’s rating of 5.4/10 but what else is new? The best thing about it was the fact that it was inspired by a historical figure of grizzly associations which counts for something I guess.

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Romina Nicolaides is a lover of History and Horror, two interests she has combined in the creation of the Affliction Series of books, a re-examination of the Vampire genre with a more realistic and scientific perspective and which is set in a multitude of real and imaginary European locations. The series offers a more existential approach to the field coupled with sensational plot twists and fascinating characters. The first book in the series titled Bathory’s Secret, revisits the legend of the 17th century Hungarian mass murderer Erzsébet Bathory. You can find more work by her on her blog:https://bathoryssecret.wordpress.com/

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Dying Breed (2008) on IMDb

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