Dying Breed

English Title: Dying Breed

Country of Origin: Australia

Studio: Ambience Entertainment

Director: Jody Dwyer

Producer(s): Rod Morris, Michael Boughen

Screenplay: Rod Morris, Jody Dwyer, Michael Boughen

Cinematographer: Geoffrey Hall

Art Director: Janie Parker

Editor: Mark Perry

Runtime: 88 minutes

Genre: horror (backwoods horror)

Starring/Cast: Leigh Whannell, Melanie Vallejo, Nathan Phillips, Mirrah Foulkes, Billie Brown

Year: 2008

Volume: Australasian


Dying Breed interweaves two intriguing facets of Australian folklore: the extinct Tasmanian Tiger and the story of the cannibal convict Alexander Pearce. The Tasmanian Tiger was officially hunted into extinction by the 1930s, but rumours and unconfirmed sightings continue speculation that deep in the unexplored wilds of Tasmania the species has survived. An Irish convict and bushranger, Alexander Pearce escaped the brutal Tasmanian penal colony of Sarah Island with several inmates in 1822 and later confessed to killing and eating them to survive in the wilderness. After a second escape he was recaptured with human flesh in his possession despite having adequate (non-human) food provisions. Pearce was hung in 1824 for cannibalism. Dying Breed is a fictional story loosely based on these two legends. Zoologist Nina, her boyfriend Matt, his friend Jack and his girlfriend Rebecca, travel to Tasmania in search of the Tiger after Nina discovers a photograph proving the species’ existence taken by her sister. Reaching the isolated township of Sarah, surrounded by rugged hills notorious for tourist disappearances and Nina’s sister’s final destination before her mysterious death, the protagonists prepare for their expedition. But having entered the domain of Alexander Pearce’s descendents who uphold his cannibal heritage, the protagonists find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival against modern day cannibals. Lured into the hills in search of the Tiger, tourists are game on which the township feed, and women are needed by the clan to breed. No outsider leaves Sarah alive, and tourists always arrive in search of the Tiger. 


Dying Breed is one of the best Australian horror films of the decade, though receiving mixed critical reception overseas, and mostly negative critical reception in Australia. Unfortunately, Australians are the harshest critics of their own films – particularly local genre movies – and tend to focus on what is wrong, rather than what is right with a local film. Dying Breed is a solid B-grade film; nothing more, nothing less. A major criticism is that Dying Breed is derivative, borrowing from Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972), Wrong Turn (Rob Schmidt, 2003), and The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977; Alexandre Aja, 2006), bringing little new to the well-worn ‘backwoods horror’ sub-genre. The legends of the Tasmanian tiger and Alexander Pearce had potential to renew backwoods horror themes in a similar way that Wolf Creek (Greg Mclean, 2005) renewed slasher conventions, but the film rarely strays from established conventions. The creepy little girl a la the deformed boy, the folk music scene, boating scenes surrounded by wild forests, and even the crossbow, are highly derivative of Deliverance. But are the derivativeness and borrowings really a problem? Most contemporary horrors flicks are derivative in one way or another and few B-grade horror flicks are perfect. But what's right with the film? Plenty! Once the carnage begins, there is nasty gore and cannibalism that made audiences scream and peer at the screen through trembling hands. Such elements are not exactly a measure of quality for an art-house film, but for a B-grade horror with the sole objective of frightening audience, the more horrific and terrifying the better. At times Dying Breed is a tense, brooding film. The Tasmanian wilderness is breathtakingly – hauntingly beautiful, rugged and wild. The visual feel of the film is brilliant – dark, gloomy and ominous. A key talking point for fans is the rabbit scene. Nina zooms in on a cute bunny rabbit sitting on a rock with a high-powered photographic lens. Suddenly it disappears, and looking up from her camera, she stares aghast at a rabbit twitching in its death throes impaled on a tree by an arrow.


The film does suffer somewhat from the shortcomings of its various subplots. Nina’s investigation into her sister’s death, and her secretly unauthorized trip to discover the Tasmanian Tiger, often tangle and slow the narrative’s drive. The Tasmanian Tiger is superfluous to the plot, and other than luring tourists into the wilds, contributes little to the story. Not a film for everyone, but for horror fans, Dying Breed is a slick B-grade backwoods horror, and a standout contemporary Australian horror movie.

Author of this review: Mark David Ryan