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Jody Dwyer's brutal feature film debut mines both Australia's past as a British penal colony and the legendary true story of Alexander Pearce, an escaped convict known as "The Pieman," who claimed to have survived by eating his fellow escapees. Naturalist Nina (Mirrah Foulkes) is determined to prove the existence of the Tasmanian tiger-previously thought to be extinct-and vindicate her sister's death, which happened eight years earlier in the wilds of western Tasmania. Along for the ride are her boyfriend Matt (Saw star and cocreator Leigh Whannell), his boorish friend Jack (Wolf Creek's Nathan Phillips), and Jack's girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo), who'd rather be on a beach in Thailand. It's hard enough trekking through a peculiar little town populated exclusively by oddballs, but when they strap on their backpacks and head out into the wild armed with little more than a crossbow, the four friends will find out that something-or someone-far more murderous than a tiger lurks in the rain-slogged bush. Shot in Pearce's picturesque former stomping ground (that's the actual Pieman River they're crossing), an area where sightings of the mysterious tiger continue to this day, Dying Breed is fraught with bone-rattling suspense and uncompromising gore. Dwyer is able to balance the bizarre character traits of the local townsfolk with intense action without going off course, taking us down a terrifying path full of our most primal fears.
Director's Statement Collapse
When producing genre pictures, it's vital to find a point of difference and Dying Breed offers just that. Not only is it inspired by a true 19th-century legend, it also touches on the topical issues of extinction and fundamentalism. The film interweaves the two most fascinating icons of Tasmanian history: the extinct Tasmanian tiger and Alexander Pearce (aka ‘The Pieman’), who was hanged for cannibalism in 1824. Against all odds, Pearce escaped from the most feared penal settlement of the British Empire, Sarah Island, and disappeared into the impenetrable forests of Western Tasmania. Seven convicts escaped with him, yet Pearce was the only one that emerged... along with chunks of human flesh in his pockets. The legend of Pearce was born.
So here we have a lost species alongside a long-forgotten legend. Both had a desperate need to survive; both could now have living descendants within the Tasmanian bush. Most plots revolve around a psycho that takes delight in executing some kind of violent rampage. To a certain extent, all horror fans expect this, but what separates Dying Breed from the norm is that it rationalizes its violence through a philosophy of survival. To survive without change, an isolated clan of Pearce descendants must uphold certain traditions, a heritage passed on from generation to generation.
And this family of rednecks is proud of its tradition. Their heritage dates back to the birth of Australia, and it sheds light on similarly fundamentalist beliefs that exist elsewhere in the world; indeed, it touches on any fascist thinking that cherishes ‘purity of breeding.’ A species needs to eat and breed to survive. It's the horror of cold logic. And that's scary. My approach therefore had to ensure that the world we create appears credible. Genre pictures tend to present stereotypes that drive the plot, but in rehearsal we encouraged improvisation within each character, exploring relationships, and this gave the action a really satisfying spontaneity. In the process we discovered little nuances between characters that added depth and economized the dialogue. Subtlety in a genre picture? Absolutely.
I also wanted to return to the core basics of being ‘suspense driven’ as opposed to ‘gore ridden.’ The market has enough splatter movies of extreme guts in all depictions, and any such exaggeration would undermine the credibility. Dying Breed has its fair share of violence, of course, but it punctuates a naturally evolving narrative alongside nail-biting tension. Hence the sub-genre category of horror/thriller: think Deliverance meets The Hills Have Eyes. This is a sodden, cruel, but strangely beautiful place. Forgotten by the world. And no wonder… some things are best kept hidden.
Film Information Collapse
[DYING] | 2008 | 92 | Narrative Feature
Directed by: Jody Dwyer
Foreign Title: (Dying Breed)
Cast & Credits Collapse
Principal Cast Nathan Phillips, Leigh Whannell, Mirrah Foulkes, Melanie Vallejo, Bille Brown, Ken Radley
Producers Michael Boughen, Rod Morris
Screenwriters Michael Boughen, Rod Morris, Jody Dwyer
Director of Photography Geoffrey Hall
Executive Producers Christopher Mapp, Matthew Street, David Whealy
Editor Mark Perry
Production Designer David McKay
Connect to this film Collapse
About the Director(s)Collapse
Jody Dwyer has earned a variety of international awards, and his work has been selected by 29 international festivals. Barely Visible, the 2005 short that Dwyer wrote, edited, produced, and directed, was accepted into 18 international film festivals, including the LA Short Film Festival and the Rhode Island International Film Festival. It was named best film at Homebrewed 2005 and received an AFI nomination for best screenplay. His 2004 short A Whole New You was second best of show in Adelaide and best of show in the Funnybone 500 Comedy Festival. Dwyer went on to direct an episode of Bryan Brown's thriller series Two Twisted before undertaking his first feature, Dying Breed.