Horror films are not always meant to be terrifying or in your face. As a fan of the genre as a whole, oftentimes I find myself struggling to explain to part-time fans or specific sub-genre fans what makes a film like The Burrowers worth watching. Just because a film is a part of the horror genre, it does not mean it sets out to be overtly frightening and leave you shaking in your boots. Most times the ultimate goal is pure entertainment, sometimes it is fear, other times it is social commentary or just good laughs, horror is not just one thing; not just to scare the pants of you, and to assume it is is to rob yourself of some great film-watching experiences.
This film is a period piece and a thinking man’s horror film. There are many layers and many different facets of fear in the plot of The Burrowers. This film comes to us from the mind of J.T. Petty, who wrote and directed the piece. It is from 2008 and stars Clancy Brown, Karl Geary, Doug Hutchison and William Mapother. On it’s face, the film is a Western style horror movie, pitting cowboys against Indians. Looking beneath it is more man against, not so much nature as the natural order of things. The films starts with the discovery that a family has been murdered, with Fergus’ (Karl Geary) fiancée missing from her home. Fergus and his group set out to find his lost love, as well as the Indians that they assume were responsible. The crew hopes that she is not dead, but only kidnapped and that they can retrieve her alive. As they search for her it becomes evident that something much more sinister, and much less human is responsible for the disappearance and deaths. One of the girls left behind at the site of the attack seems to still be alive, though she seems dead. One of the Indians that the men come across tells them that the creatures they are searching for come once every third generation and that until the white men came and eradicated the buffalo that the things fed on herds of the once plentiful animal. Once that resource was decimated the monsters had to turn to another source of food, which happened to be humans, usually Indians. The hungry animals then paralyze their prey, bury it alive and come back to feed once the outside has hardened and the inside has softened. One tribe of Indian knows how to get rid of the creatures, so the men go in search of the Ute tribe of Indians to help them and it costs them dearly.
It turns out that white men brought more to the native people they found upon arriving in the Americas than just famine, slaughter and disease; now adding the curse of these horrible creatures. It reminds me of one of the things I think of all the time, like what consequences do we face once some of our endangered species really start dying out completely? These things have unforeseen consequences that could devastate the world for all we know. Even if the effect is not as direct, the domino effect will surely take place and we will feel it at some point. Then, we are the monsters.
This film leaves us plenty to be afraid of beyond my perceived social commentary. The thought of being incapacitated fully, with consciousness while the body wastes away and no way of communicating with anyone is a major fear many of us face. Add to that being buried alive in such a state and you have doubled a large portion of the population’s two biggest fears. The more you watch this film, the more these psychological fears take hold and really start making you realize the horror in the story you are watching. The more tangible and physical fears are evident with the idea of not only being eaten, but being eaten alive. Knowing man is no longer the top of the food chain would be enough to give anyone serious pause.
In the end, this film carries the message that we brought this on ourselves with carelessness and cavalier disregard for the natural order of things. Not to mention our penchant for greed an excess. The acting is executed well throughout, with a bright spot in lead, Karl Geary and good supporting cast in the Native American roles. The creatures lead a bit to be desired, but after so much build-up, that is no surprise. This fact doesn’t detract from the story, which remains solid, though I would have liked to see more depth to the personal stories of the lead characters. This is a horror movie with a message, one that we should all pay more attention to.
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What is your greatest fear? Share in the comments!