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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Orcs! (2011)

"They will eat your face off"


A bumbling pair of hapless park rangers have to save the day when their national park is invaded by a horde of blood-thirsty orcs from the depths of the mountains.


I hate rolling out clichéd phrases but with Orcs! it is fair to say that you can't judge a book by its cover. I had foolishly assumed that what I was sitting down to watch would be some generic Sy Fy Original-style low budget creature feature nonsense, only with orcs taking on the role of the monster usually played out by a shark, crocodile, snake, or random mythological creature of the moment. But Orcs! was not as basic that, in a both surprising and thankful sense. Go in with some low expectations and you’ll be greeted with a modestly charming film which has its heart in the right place even if a lot of it fails to register little more than a mild beat. Besides which, how many films set in the real world can you say feature such a ridiculous plot line?

Orcs! goes down the comedy-horror route with varying results. Sometimes it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s not. I guess the idea of an army of orcs suddenly invading rural America doesn’t lend itself to a whole amount of serious credibility (there are no explanations for their presence in the real world) so the writers made a decent decision to turn the piece into something of a screwball buddy comedy. At its heart is the duo of Cal and Hobart, the two slacker park rangers who are on the front line of this situation. You’ll have seen this duo before (not the actors, but the characters) in many buddy comedies so there’s little in the way of fresh characterisation here.

Adam Johnson stars as Cal and apart from his dodgy-looking moustache, he's a solid hand playing the slacker-stoner average Joe. He sounds a lot like Donald Sutherland and has decent comic timing. The character doesn't care about his job and much prefers getting stoned to a hard day's grafts so you know the type of comedy that is going to come here. He plays off Maclain Nelson's Hobie, a naive by-the-book nerd, and the two men share some daft laughs in the best buddy comedy tradition. It's hardly Laurel and Hardy/Morecambe and Wise levels of comic sophistication and timing but Johnson and Nelson do alright with the material that they're given, certainly better than they have any right to do. The comedy isn't exactly laugh out loud but there are a few chuckles to be had and the light-hearted tone keeps the film feeling fresh and interesting, even if little is happening on screen.

Unfortunately, for all of the good work that the first half of Orcs! does with building up the main characters and the orc threat, the second half completely ruins it as the heroes hole up in the ranger shack and prepare to defend themselves against the incoming orc army Night of the Living Dead-style. It’s a really long, drawn-out battle sequence (about twenty minutes, though it seems to go on for hours) which gets repetitive quickly as wave after wave of the orcs attack the shack and the survivors shoot at them - I say wave after wave because it looks like the same shots are re-used time and time again. Its during the battle that the comedy aspects peter out and the slacker duo become action heroes, depriving the film of the only thing that was keeping it going as long as it did. I'm sure a little more tweaking of the script could have thrown some laughs in somewhere, even in the middle of the carnage. The repetitive nature of this final third suggests that the writers were clueless as to what to do with their army of orcs once they had unleashed it and run around in circles for a bit before the film ends.

The orcs themselves look like people who have just come from a Lord of the Rings convention, and not the dedicated ones that you see going to all lengths to make their costume the best. These orc costumes are little more than bargain basement fancy dress rags and do little to conjure up any sense of fantasy that the sight of an orc army should. You hardly see any of the orcs in the flesh and they're always wearing their helmets and armour. I guess it's a budget factor but I wouldn't have minded seeing a bit more of the orcs or even found out a bit more about them. As it stands, they become more of an inconvenience rather than an outright threat. Like many of these films, when the heroes are up against a weak, undeveloped enemy, then the film suffers in the end because there's no real sense of danger to the characters and Orcs! never once hints that the main characters will come to harm.


Final Verdict

As is the case with a lot of comedy-horror films, the elements just don't quite mix in Orcs! Whilst the light-hearted banter works on some crude level, the horror and action elements don't work with it and the film never manages to find the right balance. It's either comedy or action or horror and never all three at once. Worth a watch at least once but be prepared for a sluggish final third.



Director(s): Andrew Black

Writer(s): Anne K. Black, Jason Faller, Kynan Griffin, Justin Partridge

Actor(s): Adam Johnson, Maclain Nelson, Renny Richmond, Barta Heiner, Michael Behrens, Brad Johnson

Duration: 78 mins


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