Right out of the gate we have a strange set-up: An Irish girl, in a home that seems to be much older than the “fourteen years ago” we’re told, is obviously having a baby. Nothing wrong with that, right? Weellll…she seems kind of against the idea, going as far as to tie her knees together with her sheet. She keeps getting assurances from the other, older woman in the room (Mother? Midwife?), while her husband putters around the fireplace, seeming kinda disturbed but oddly distant. Intercut this with a shot of a priest carrying a doctor’s bag (enough alone to kind of make you shudder) making his way to the house, stopping only to answer a passing woman’s desperate query, “Is this the one, Father?”, to which he replies “We can only pray”.
We can only pray, indeed.
Plague Town surprised me. From what I’d heard about it, I expected it to be something like The Hills Have Eyes, some low-budget knock off that might be worth killing an hour-and-a-half over, but nothing to write home about; I was wrong. I found myself really drawn into the story, and by the time the first real oh shit! moment hit, I was hooked.
The story focuses on an American family vacationing in Ireland, and the set-up tells us that the underlying motive is for this guy’s two daughters (one a brooding, goth type, the other a raving, bitchy attention-whore) to get to know his new wife-to-be; “strengthen the family unit”, as he says at one point. We quickly surmise that this isn’t really going according to plan; the two sisters stay at each other’s throats (although one exchange between them had me laughing out loud), the poor soon-to-be stepmom is the focus of a lot of derision, and the tag-along British boyfriend of the bitchy sister (whom the father berates himself for letting come along, but if any of you are fathers as I am, you’ll beat him to it) serves only as an agitator. The acting and story here are excellent; the character development is well done, but not dragged out.
Caught up in their bickering, our quintet misses their bus and finds themselves faced with a long walk in the Irish night. They find an abandoned car leading down a small side road and, finding it unlocked, decide to use it for shelter against the cold while the boyfriend sets out to find a phone (Miss Bitchy, against Dad’s wishes, follows him). The pair come upon an aging little house (seems to belong in the same time frame as our opening scene…coincidence??), and off we go. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that although we start with but a small leak in the brimstone wall, all hell breaks loose rather quickly.
There’s some marvelous photography and set design here; the foggy nightscapes and well-placed lighting really lend an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere; it’s like some kind of twisted psycho-fairytale. Each set is well-thought out and easily believable, and our antagonists are different and frightening (Rosemary in particular is freakishly spooky and very well-acted; you’ll see). There’s some treats for you gorehounds to be found here, too; some scenes are quite bloody indeed, and although there was one scene that was a little iffy, as a whole I felt the special effects were quite well done. I was most impressed with the sound; both the soundtrack and ambient effects are damned effective; sound design in this case is a character in itself (I recommend watching it in as dark a room as you can with the surround sound turned up). Script-wise, the story is far more original than I thought it would be (I was reminded of The Wicker Man at times, but certainly not in any way where it felt like a rip-off), and while there are a lot of unanswered questions, I was satisfied with the tale as a whole and found the ending both suitable and chilling.
I only had one real issue: we all know that in most horror films, characters often do some really stupid things; let’s face it, if everyone always made the smart choices, there wouldn’t be a lot of horror films. That said, Plague Town has one nigh-unforgivable instance where they raise stupid decision-making to mythic levels (you’ll know it when you see it). It had me literally screaming at the screen at the total idiocy of the moment. Fortunately, the following scenes were able to quickly pull me back into the film.
Overall, I’ll recommend this one; it has a good story, above-average to very good acting, nicely done gore effects, and enough originality and atmospheric creepiness to set it apart from the pack.