Directed by Michelle Maclaren
Produced by Gavin Polone
Written by Michael Kengston
Director of Photograpy Thomas Burstyn
Music by Glenn Buhr
Cast: Jeremy Sisto, Charlotte Sullivan, Fred Durst, Peter Outerbridge
2006/92 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
In the latter half of the 20th century, a trend began where people began leaving the inner cities and moving to suburban or rural environments. (A very negative term for this is "white flight".) I can attest that this trend continues today, as I leave in a suburban/small town area and people are moving from the nearby urban area as fast as possible. So, in real life, people long for the suburban or even rural setting. And yet, in horror films, rural areas are seen as sinister and untrustworthy. They are often filled with immoral and unscrupulous characters who live by their own rules. The direct-to-DVD film POPULATION 436 continues this trend.
Jeremy Sisto stars in POPULATION 436 as Steve Kady, a Census Bureau worker who has been assigned to visit Rockwell Falls, Illinois. Despite some initial trouble, Steve is eventually able to locate the secluded town, but immediately gets two flat tires when he hits the enormous potholes on the road into the hamlet. Steve is greeted by Deputy Bobby Caine (Fred Durst), who is very suspicious at first, but once Steve explains his presence, Bobby escorts him into town. Once there, Steve is greeted by Mayor Grateman (Frank Adamson), Sheriff Calcutt (RH Thomson), and all of the townspeople, all of whom are incredibly friendly. Steve is struck by the rustic nature of Rockwell Falls, which only has a few stores, a one-room school, and not much more. The people are pleasant, but very secretive. Steve gets a room at Belma's (Monica Parker) and is immediately attracted to her daughter, Courtney (Charlotte Sullivan).
But, as Steve begins to go about his job, he finds some strange things about the town. The population of Rockwell Falls has always been 436. When he asks about certain families, he's told that they went away or that he can't see them. He finds that many people have been diagnosed with something called "the fever" and were treated by Dr. Greaver (David Fox). Even stranger, people seem to balk at the notion that Steve will be leaving in a few days when his work is done. Steve soon learns that Rockwell Falls is a nice place visit and that there's no way to escape from it.
POPULATION 436 is an interesting film in that it doesn't try to be anything more than what it is, but it offers more than one would expect (from a direct-to-DVD feature). On the surface, the film's story isn't very original. It draws heavily from Shirley Jackson's classic short-story "The Lottery" and anyone who's even driven past a house where someone inside was watching THE TWILIGHT ZONE will find that much of the film has a familiar feel. It's also reminiscent of movies as diverse as THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME, 2000 MANIACS, or any movie in which a character (or characters) arrive in a small town only to find that the townspeople live by their own rules and don't appreciate outsiders meddling in their affairs. There's also a hint of THE STEPFORD WIVES for good measure. But, POPULATION 436 is able to add its own unique twist to these ingredients and the story is interesting enough to keep the viewer interested.
You may have noticed that many of the movies mentioned above were somewhat older and that's certainly the feel of POPULATION 436. The movie is leisurely paced and contains little violence and one tasteful sex scene. It seems that director Michelle Maxwell McLaren and writer Michael Kingston were certainly going for a throwback feel, not only in the film's setting, but in the overall tone of the film itself. Some may not welcome the somewhat slow pace of the film, but it's never boring as Steve finds more and more clues. For me, the most impressive part of the film was the shocking ending. The film masterfully sets up a plotline that leads to a quite surprising finale. I must admit the ending gave me chills and certainly heightened my opinion of the movie.
Perhaps astute viewers noticed the name Fred Durst in the body of the review and thought, "Isn't that that ass from Limp Bizkit?" The answer is yes, and just like the movie, Durst is surprisingly good here. He doesn't overextend in his role as Deputy Bobby and he's easily believable as the small-town man who just wants the good life. But, it's Jeremy Sisto who's front-and-center throughout the film. Say what you will about Sisto, he has a gift for playing confident people who don't seem to be used to pressure. Charlotte Sullivan (who's like a Canadian Jennifer Connelly) is also good in her role as Courtney.
I'll freely admit that I often complain about movies being too slow or boring, but, from time-to-time, it's nice to see a movie which takes its time in developing its story and characters. POPULATION 436 isn't overly thrilling or exciting, but it's an interesting journey as Steve discovers the town's secrets. This is one of the better direct-to-DVD films that I've seen recently and it's certainly worth a rental.
POPULATION 436 is counted on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good at first, then I noticed some pixellation and distinct lack of detail in the middle of the screen. This continued throughout the film and was especially noticeable when character or objects moved across the screen. The colors look good and the transfer shows no grain or defects from the source material. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track gives us clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are quite good, as are the surround sound effects during the crowd scenes. I noticed a few moments where the surround sound accented character movement in the background, which was pleasing.
The only extra feature on the DVD is an ALTERNATE ENDING. This is a true alternate ending, as it a cut presenting the exact opposite of what happens in the finished film. This makes for a nice discussion topic if you've watched the film with others.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©