As a fan of the horror genre I’ve sat through numerous low budget films in my time. This has usually been at festivals or conventions. Sometimes watching something as part of a group, with likeminded individuals, makes a difference. You find yourself groaning in unison and the shared experience helps compensate for potential deficiencies. Watching questionable material in the comfort of your own home, purely on your own can be a lot tougher. However, due to my abiding love of the genre, I am prepared to cut a lot of cheap ass indie flicks considerably more slack than I would others. So, I'll endeavour to review Orcs! with as much impartiality as possible. Oh, and before we start, let us clarify the term Orcs. Although Middle-earth is not referenced in any way, this film is definitely about Tolkien's creations. Or at least their depiction in another well-known series of films.
Orcs! is a modestly budgeted, independent comedy horror film, set in the fictitious Balancing Rock National Park. Ranger Cal (Adam Johnson) along with Cadet Ranger Hobart (the well-cast Maclain Nelson), discover that the parks visitors and staff are being brutally slain by an unseen force. Aided by Cal's ex-girlfriend and militant environmentalist, Katie (Renny Grames), the trio incompetently investigate the situation. It soon becomes apparent that the spate of deaths is not the work of rogue bears or bigfoot but a band marauding of Orcs (who have arrived and started killing folk for “some particular reason”). Cut off and enable to escape the park, our heroes make a last stand, vowing to make the Orcs sorry they messed with the US Parks Service. Low budget mayhem ensues.
Orcs! is very much a mixed bag. It starts with some fairly broad humour, setting up the central characters. I did find myself warming to the two leads. The action scenes and violence is not to strong and is often mitigated with a wry joke or quip. The Orcs themselves are fairly well realised. Considering the budget, the costumes and armour are well designed. The films greatest assets are several rather clever homages to Peter Jackson's trilogy. Hobart lampoon's Aragorn's tracking skills in a clever pastiche. There are also parallels with the battle of Helm's Deep. The use of drums to denote the massing of the orcs is another clever cinematic homage. Director James MacPherson, even manages to include nods to John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and James Cameron's Aliens. As is so common in indie flicks of this nature, the film makers do like to heap praise upon their cinematic idols.
But despite these endearing qualities, there are major plot holes and a lack of quality material to adequately fill the eighty-minute running time. Now, with this genre of film, it is not wise to de-construct the plot too much. Genre movies often run on their own unique internal logic. Yet a glaring mistake is made and perpetuated throughout the film. Towards the end, as the Orcs lay siege to the Rangers Headquarters, our heroes discover that the enemy hates the light. Yet for the previous thirty-five minutes, the Orcs have happily been running about in broad daylight. The final battle is also far too long and insufficiently action packed to merit its ponderous running time. I appreciate that financial constraints may well have been an impediment to the director’s vision, yet a more adept production would have been a little more innovative with the resources they had.
By and large I did enjoy Orcs! as I’ve always had a supportive streak towards this sort of production. Irrespective of the film deficiencies, I applaud all involved for at least attempting to do something different. It could be argued that with a larger budget and more involved script, the film would have been superior. Ten minutes of the running time could have been taken from the ending and used earlier on in the film to the productions overall advantage. It certainly would have helped to have explored the Orcs back story some more. As it stands, Orcs! is a flawed but creative low budget genre movie. If you have a broad liking for such movies and enquiring nature, then give it a go. If you like mainstream material and have a low threshold of tolerance for anything that isn’t slick, polished and “Hollywood” then you’d best give it a miss.