Set against the historical backdrop of Australia's penal colonies and unsolved disappearances in the Tasmanian wilderness, the stylish but derivative horror-thriller "Dying Breed," from debuting Oz helmer Jody Dwyer, plays like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" set in the bush.

Set against the historical backdrop of Australia’s penal colonies and unsolved disappearances in the Tasmanian wilderness, the stylish but derivative horror-thriller “Dying Breed,” from debuting Oz helmer Jody Dwyer, plays like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” set in the bush. Incorporating familiar genre conventions in paint-by-numbers fashion without fully exploiting the uniqueness of its storied setting, pic likewise fails to create memorable villains or victims. However, genre fans with a high tolerance for shlock may be drawn by the presence of Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) and Nathan Phillips (“Wolf Creek”). Upcoming Darclight release should find an even larger audience on DVD.

Nifty pre-credits sequence introduces the story of Irish convict Alexander Pearce, aka the Pieman, who escaped from a notorious Tasmanian prison camp in 1822 and survived nine weeks in the wild by cannibalizing his comrades. Action then fast-forwards to present day, as two attractive young couples travel to the same area hoping to document an ancient tiger species, but instead happen upon the Pieman’s descendents, who’ve inherited his taste for human flesh.

Even by the low standards of other horror-movie victims, the foursome here seem blithely clueless, always splitting up for no good reason and running headlong into ambushes. Group includes Irish zoologist Nina (attractive newcomer Mirrah Foulkes), her submissive b.f. Matt (Whannell), his loudly obnoxious pal Jack (Phillips) and Jack’s good-natured g.f. Rebecca (sexy Melanie Vallejo). Jack and Rebecca supply the prerequisite (but not particularly graphic) sex scene.

Nina has another reason for wanting to make the trip — her older sister was found drowned nearby eight years earlier. But auds, if not Nina, are clued in to what actually happened to her sister, paving the way for a third-act revelation that gives a double meaning to the title.

Deep in the forest, the expedition stops for a night at an insalubrious bar and hostel run by a dour bunch of inbreds, most of whom sport removable dentures. “Welcome to the shallow end of the gene pool,” jokes Jack. But, as per convention, the joke will soon be on him.

Less harrowing than “Wolf Creek,” “Dying Breed” sports only a few gross-out scenes and a medium amount of gore before its unconvincing torture-porn climax. F/x and makeup are just so-so.

Talented d.p. Geoffrey Hall responds to his biggest challenge since unconventional crimers “Chopper” and “Dirty Deeds” with haunting desaturated-color lensing that adds an element of dread to the primeval beauty of the locations. Editing by Mark Perry and score by Nerida Tyson-Chew support the atmospherics.

Dying Breed

Australia

Production

A Hoyts (in Australia)/Darclight (in U.S.) release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation, in association with Omnilab Media, of an Ambience Entertainment production, in association with Miropix, Film Victoria. (International sales: Arclight Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Michael Boughen, Rod Morris. Executive producers, Christopher Mapp, Matthew Street, David Whealy. Directed by Jody Dwyer. Screenplay, Michael Boughen, Rod Morris, Dwyer.

Crew

Camera (color), Geoffrey Hall; editor, Mark Perry; music, Nerida Tyson-Chew; production designer, David McKay; costume designer, Kate Graham; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark Cornish; sound designer, Emma Bortignon; visual effects supervisor, Ineke Majoor; casting, Anousha Zarkesh. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Midnight), April 27, 2008. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Nathan Phillips, Leigh Whannell, Mirrah Foulkes, Melanie Vallejo, Bille Brown, Ken Radley.

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