presence of a familiar story, a familiar setting,
and a familiar hero should not make for a
particularly enthralling film, especially one
hoping to earn a living in the horror genre.
Despite all that, "Population 436"
manages to be pretty good anyway, and although it
is no masterpiece by any stretch, it is shockingly
decent. "Population" benefits from
expert, unhurried direction from former TV
director Michelle Maxwell MacLaren and actor
Jeremy Sisto ("May")
in the leading role never hurts. But while Sisto
does his usual good work, it's Limp Bizkit
frontman Fred Durst, sans soul patch, who makes
quite the statement as a young and impressionable
deputy who befriends Sisto's character despite
warnings to the contrary.
finds U.S. census taker Steve Kady (Sisto) making
his way to the hidden town of Rockwell Falls, a
mysterious place that has maintained a population
of exactly 436 for the last 100 years and change.
No surprise, then, that the more Steve pokes
around town, the more questions he begins to
uncover, and the less he (and we) like his chances
of getting out alive. It appears that a strange
"fever" is to blame for many of the
deaths in town, including the state of an
imprisoned young girl named Amanda (Reva Timbers)
and the displacement of whole families.
To say more would be delving
into spoilers, as it takes "Population
436" more than an hour into its 90-minute
running time to reveal its central plot. Suffice
to say, Steve's suspicions are very much correct,
but what he can do about it, now that's another
matter entirely. Genre fans will no doubt be able
to figure out a large part of the film's mystery
from all the hints, since, as mentioned, there's
nothing overly new here. This same "small
perfect town with supernatural secrets"
premise has been hatched many times before, and
each time the revelations are never as surprising
as the filmmakers seem to think they are.
In any case, the film does
manage to strike some very good balances, making
for what is a generally entertaining viewing.
Steve's growing suspicions are gradual and not
sudden, and his investigation doesn't bear fruit
for a long while. Steve is aided by pretty local
girl Courtney (Charlotte Sullivan), who wishes to
leave town herself, but has been deterred many
times at the risk of developing the omnipresent
"fever". Unfortunately for Steve, his
growing attraction to Courtney and vice versa
can't help but come between his friendship with
deputy bumpkin Deputy Caine (Durst), who has his
own marriage plans for the lovely Courtney. By
which I mean he wants to marry her. To the film's
credit, it doesn't turn Caine into a stereotypical
country redneck cop, and that's something we can
The first hour of
"Population 436" moves at a leisurely
pace, and many viewers will no doubt be bothered
by the film's PG approach to its horror elements.
In fact, there's very little horrific stuff
happening, as there is no gore to speak off, and
the killings do not, in fact, stack up in any
shape or form. In this way, "Population
436" is actually quite comparable to an
overlong episode of "The X-Files", but
instead of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, you have
Jeremy Sisto and Charlotte Sullivan. The film
straddles the fence between providing either
definite proof or definite debunking of the
townspeople's belief that mysterious Godly forces
are in play with an ambiguous ending that actually
main obstacle is that it will be sold as a genre
horror movie (just look at the movie's cover), and
the fact that the film feels and looks more like a
long TV episode may be off-putting to a lot of the
people who will be watching the film for promises
of gore, sex, and violence. You know, your usual
helpings from films with similar looking boxcover
art. There is some sex (Sisto and Sullivan has a
mostly dark, mostly PG tryst in a barn), a little
bit of violence (someone is shot in the head, a
woman is hanged), but again, no gore to speak off.
Maniacs" this ain't.
"Population 436" is
a good effort, but won't (and probably shouldn't)
stand out as a horror entry. If anything, the film
might be most remembered for starring Fred Durst
who, again, gives an outstanding performance.
Every now and then I had to remind myself that the
actor playing Deputy Caine is actually a rather
annoying musician with a propensity for overblown
showmanship. To see Durst deliver such a
controlled, low-key performance, I must admit to
being quite impressed. Maybe this guy really is as talented as he keeps telling us he is. Go figure.