Toronto Review: J.T. Petty's The Burrowers
by Alex Billington
September 14, 2008
When it comes to horror, it takes quite a bit to impress me, and the same goes for westerns, but J.T. Petty's The Burrowers did just that. The concept couldn't be any more appealing: the film is a mix of western and horror that features nasty underground creatures who hunt humans. As far as I know, I don't think there has ever been a horror movie that takes place in the old west, at least not one as good as this. The Burrowers looks amazing, starts out well, and features a great cast, but as thrilling as it was, it ultimately could've been a much better film for reasons that I'm having trouble identifying. However, for an exploration into both the horror and western genres, J.T. Petty should be proud of his latest feature.
When Coffey's (Karl Geary) bride-to-be and her entire family suddenly disappear one night, he gathers up some local rancher friends and decides to head off on horseback in search of the Indians that they think took her and her family. Of course, we all know that it was the Burrowers, gruesome creatures who live underground and come out at night to feed on humans, that actually took her. Joining Coffey on his adventure into the Dakota Territories is Parcher (William Mapother) and the local lawman (Clancy Brown). The group runs into Henry Victor (Doug Hutchison) and his brigade of Bluecoats, who join their hunt until the original three determine that Victor is only searching for Indians to kill and not the missing girl.
The Burrowers is actually a very solidly put together film, but it focuses a bit too much on the western side of things and not enough on the horror. Eventually we get to see some gruesome scenes with the creatures, but it takes too long to get there. The cinematography, courtesy of industry veteran Phil Parmet, was actually the best part of the film. And the cast, including even Clancy Brown, all gave some impressive performances. So with all of these good things going for it, I'm confused as to why I didn't exactly love the film in the end. Something just didn't work, and I still don't know exactly what it was. I wish I could provide more insight, but I'm struggling to balance my appreciation for the cinematography and lack of any criticism.
This is certainly a film that I'm anxious to revisit because it looked so damn good and Petty did such a fine job putting together a thrilling story within the script. It's not exactly going to end up becoming the next classic creature feature and it's not going to become a mainstream hit, as far as I can tell, but I have a feeling those who seek out The Burrowers will definitely find something to appreciate and enjoy. It definitely won't let anyone down and still has quite a bit of entertainment to offer.
Toronto Rating: 8 out of 10