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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
"Our traditions are very important in the community. Do your best to mind them."
DVD ReviewBorrowing a tad from films like The Wicker Man and The Village, along with stories like Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and a wee bit of Lovecraft, this variation-on-a-theme has a wayward census taker (Jeremy Sisto) discovering all to well why the isolated small town of Rockwell Falls has had a consistent population of 436 for the past 100 some years. It may look like a happy, idyllic place to live—the residents refer to it as "the most perfect place on Earth"—but even with the sly nod to a Norman Rockwell slice of Americana, it's clear that the townsfolk have no desire to ever change that population sign one way or the other.
Jeremy Sisto is the unfortunate census worker sent to Rockwell Falls, and when his vehicle gets a couple of suspicious flats just inside the town border he's more or less stranded until his ride gets fixed. The town is like Mayberry on acid, an overly golden happy place that any viewer with half a brain will know right away is hiding some deep, dark secret. And it is only a matter of time before Sisto's well-meaning Steve Kady finds out what it is. There's a potential love interest (Charlotte Sullivan), a mysterious doctor (David Fox), an imprisoned little girl (Reva Timber) and in the biggest shocker of all, a wonderfully humble performance by the ordinarily screamy Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit as a rather timid, down home deputy who becomes the unnecessary third wheel in a romantic triangle.
Directed by television vet Michelle MacLaren (The X-Files, Law & Order:SVU), Population 436 does it's thing by unfolding rather slowly, but that works surprisingly well here, as this isn't supposed to be a big, noisy horror title. Slow and steady wins the race, with the suspense built gradually as we're given some obvious tidbits that something just ain't right, while Sisto's Kady pokes around suspiciously, always under the watchful eye of the town elders. There's talk of an ancient prophecy (naturally), an eerie but predictable festival, and a classroom of youngsters that seem to be excelling in some kind of Cthulhu-inspired chanting, though this plot point is sadly never really developed any further.
Straight-to-DVD titles like this typically fall apart quickly, and while I had very low expectations for this one (I'll be honest, Fred Durst's above the title name had me worried) I quickly fell in with this as a fluffy bit of nicely manufactured gothic suspense that even though I knew pretty much where it would go, I still actually enjoyed. This isn't the new face of suspense/horror by any stretch, but it gets grim when it needs to, and I have to applaud a film that isn't afraid to go that way.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: A nice looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Sony on this straight-to-DVD title. Colors are bright, and MacLaren fills the town of Rockwell Falls with all sorts of deceptively sunny, golden goodness early on, and the sharp transfer conveys that. A solid effort here, with fleshtones looking natural as well, and the debris-free print is also devoid of any major compression issues.
A very pleasant surprise.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The principle audio choice is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround blend that uses a large amount of directional movement across the front channels, giving this one a fairly wide feel to the soundstage. Rears don't get used often, though there are a few musical stingers that crop up periodically from the corners, as does the sub. Voice quality is clear and placed upfront for the duration.
Alternate dubs are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in Portuguese, and a 2.0 surround track in French.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Clive Barker Presents The Plague, I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Hollow Man 2, Ring Around The Rosie, When A Stranger Calls, The Cavern, Silent Hill
1 Alternate Endings
Extras Review: Extras consist a few theoretically spooky trailers (bring on Clive Barker's The Plague, I say) and a slightly more upbeat alternate ending (04m:36s) that was wisely unused, though I am glad to see it here.
The disc is cut into 28 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese or Korean.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsMaybe this one plays out too much like bits and pieces of things we've seen before, but yet it holds up as a fun little horror thriller that isn't shy about being downbeat when it needs to.
Perhaps not a required purchase, but an easy recommendation as a rental.
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