Directed by Hal Masonberg
Produced by Clive Barker, Jorge Saralegui, Tim O'Hair, Matt Milich, Martin Wiley
Written by Hal Masonberg & Teal Minton
Director of Photograpy Bill Butler
Music by Laszlo Remenyi
Cast: James Van Der Beek, Ivana Milicevic, Brad Hunt, Joshua Close, Brittany Scobie
2006/88 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
Over the years, I've reviewed plenty of direct-to-video horror movies. Some of these have been surprisingly good (DEAD END, DEAD BIRDS, FRANKENFISH), but most of them are terrible (Who can forget CANDY STRIPERS, SHREDDER, SASQUATCH HUNTEERS? I wish I could.) Thus, when I encounter one of these films, my expectations are deservedly low. Therefore, if a direct-to-video movie is pretty good, or even slightly better than pretty good, it immediately garners attention. Thus, we have THE PLAGUE (AKA CLIVE BARKER'S THE PLAGUE), a movie that I would say it at least 75% good.
As THE PLAGUE opens, a terrible event grips the entire planet. Every child under the age of nine suddenly goes into a catatonic state. While it's not necessarily a coma, the children no longer respond to the outside world. The action then leaps ahead 10 years. Tom Russel (James Van Der Beek) has been released from prison and returns to his hometown. He goes to the home of his brother, David (Arne MacPherson), whose son, Eric (Chad Panting), is one of the silent children. Tom attempts to settle in, but he's rebuffed by his ex-wife, Jean (Ivana Milicevic), and her brother, Sam (Brad Hunt). We learn that in the decade since the children fell into their strange conditions, any child born has been in the catatonic state, and governments have passed strict birth control laws. The world seems to be coming to an end, as their is no new generation to take over. Strangely, the children have seizures twice a day, which seems to keep their muscles intact.
Tom's hope for a return to peaceful civilian life is crushed the very next morning. He awakens to find that the children have all rise from their catatonic states. While this seems like a joyous occasion, it's instead a horrific one, as the children -- now mostly teenagers -- are violent and homicidal. Tom travels to the local care center (buildings converted to house the children) to find Jean, and soon joins a group of survivors, Sam, Sheriff Stewart (John P. Connolly), his wife Norah (Dee Wallace), Deputy Burgandy (Bradley Sawatzky), and two teenagers, Kip (Joshua Close) & Claire (Brittany Scobie), who are able to blend in with the children. This group travels from one location to another, attempting to avoid the children. They observe the kids killing person after person, and Tom and Kip begin to put together a theory of what the children are trying to do. As Tom attempts to lead the group out of town, it becomes clear that the children have an agenda and escape isn't an option.
THE PLAGUE gives hodge-podge a new meaning, as the movie has similarities to many past films. Some may agree with me, but I see it as a remake of the 1980 super-stinker THE CHILDREN. But, most will see the movie as a combination of a zombie movie, a la DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) with CHILDREN OF THE CORN and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS...with maybe a hint of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. The killers kids in the movie can move very quickly, but they are quiet and maintain their blank stares for most of the movie. They can kill with their bare hands, but they also use weapons. The way in which the characters barricade themselves in buildings is reminiscent of many zombie movies (the scenes in the old church actually reminded me of PRINCE OF DARKNESS), as is the fact that they hear news reports about events from other locations.
Despite these issues, THE PLAGUE impressed me and I found it to be very intriguing. The film's central idea may be a bit far-fetched, but the opening scene of an emergency room full of shaking children, and the shots of the care center, which has row after row of catatonic teens in hospital beds, are memorable. The film is rarely slow and there are some suspenseful moments. The movie doesn't pull any punches with the fact that the villains are killer kids and the characters don't have any qualms about blowing away an oncoming teenager. For a low-budget horror film, the acting is pretty good. James Van Der Beek may be channeling his brooding character from "Dawson's Creek" into a brooding ex-con, but it works in the movie. Ivana Milicevic is also good as a female character who is able to take things into her own hands. The actors never rush their dialogue and this aids with the character development in the film.
Again, a direct-to-video movie that doesn't suck gets the benefit of the doubt, and for the most part, THE PLAGUE passes this test. Unfortunately, the movie falls apart in the end. The finale gets a little too heady for its own good and this action-packed horror movie suddenly turns into a message film. Given the nature of the material, it would appear that writers Hal Masonberg and Teal Minton wrote themselves into a corner and decided to opt for an existential ending. In a way, this is admirable, but the quiet and introspective ending clashes with the rest of the film. According to the buzz on IMDB.com and some comments made on the DVD's audio commentary, there was a clash between director Masonberg and the studio, but I don't think that their disagreements effected this miscalculated ending.
THE PLAGUE carries Clive Barker's name above the title, but I truly have no idea how much he was involved in the film. I can certainly see Barker admiring the material, but the film's story feels more like something that Stephen King or John Saul would have written. THE PLAGUE is far from perfect and it certainly suffers from its share of problems, but for a direct-to-video movie, it's not bad and is worth seeing for those who are curious about an apocalyptic film with a different point of view.
THE PLAGUE awakens on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie looks very good, as the image is very sharp and clear, showing basically no grain nor any defects from the source material. The colors look good and the picture is never too dark. There is some minor artifacting at times, and some shots are lacking in detail, but otherwise the transfer looks good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, and as with most Sony DVDs, the audio here is very good. The dialogue is clear and audible, showing no hissing or distortion. The surround sound effects are excellent, as the musical cues and the sounds of the marauding children fill the speakers. Some of the stereo effects are amongst the best I’ve heard recently.
The DVD contains two extras. There is an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring actors Brad Hunt and Joshua Close, along with editor Ed Marx. Again, there were reports that the director was fired from the film, and there are some comments here which allude to that. Hunt points out the fact that the finished film is very different from the script and Marx constantly mentions deleted scenes and scenes that were moved around. They speakers seem to be making a conscious effort to not mention the director, or some of the other actors. This aside, they do a fair job of discussing the film’s production. The other extra consists of 8 DELETED SCENES which comprise about 18 minutes of footage. There is only one additional action scene here, as most feature more character development. It’s pretty clear that the scenes where cut for pacing, but there are some nice moments here.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©