“The Burrowers” is another little movie that got under most people’s radars. It’s a genre hybrid not done often: a horror western. With a starting point resembling “The Searchers,” six people—most of whom are women and children—are abducted. A posse of men chases down the kidnappers believed to be an Indian tribe. But the abductors are in fact vicious creatures that burrow under the earth and feed on the living. The titular monsters paralyze people with poison then bury them with enough face exposed to breath. Edgar Allen Poe fears of being buried alive combined with the helplessness of only a twitching finger to communicate creates unsettling dread.
But humans are the most dangerous predator. An army officer (Doug Hutchison giving a two-note performance) bull-headedly tortures Indians while blind to odd ground holes that tell a different story. Tellingly the officer is never referred to by his rank out of disrespect. Other human prejudices and cruelties are displayed. The burrowers only want food after all.
The isolation of being far from civilization and nature’s unforgiving ways are also major factors adding fear. No police or firemen are coming. The men’s only possible escape is by pushing themselves to the limits of exhaustion.
Karl Geary, William Mapother, and Clancy Brown spearhead excellent performances by the whole cast, Hutchison excepted. They add to the film’s realism, which creates a more believable threat from the creatures. Dirt, dust, and sweat coats hard-living faces in Phil Parmet’s tactile cinematography. Daylight scenes look like muted sunshine. I suspect this was mostly executed with digital grading in post-production. The effect creates creepiness to the otherwise beautiful outdoors.
Writer-director J.T. Petty’s script is so layered that it could be interrupted as a post-9/11 Bush politics allegory. The burrowers are terrorists. The bull-headed officer is the Bush administration killing any tribe that can be blamed. People who know the truth are misunderstood and ignored. Petty’s visual rhythms and emphasis deftly blend the two genres. The creatures themselves are nicely nasty and realized well even if their look is not stunningly original.
“The Burrowers” is a solid horror movie deserving a healthy audience. It’s easily available on DVD.