Population 436 is 2006 mystery / horror (nothing major) small budget movie starring Jeremy Sisto, Fred Durst (yes, lead singer of Limp Bizkit), Peter Outerbridge & Charlotte Sullivan (I’m watching her on Rookie Blue). Directed by Michelle MacLaren & produced by Gavin Polone the movie shares similarities in plot to the classic horror The Wicker Man and also The Village.
Steve Kady is a recent widower who lost his wife & daughter in a car accident and works for the US Census Bureau. He is sent to investigate the remote village of Rockwell Falls to interview residents concerning the population – for over a 100 years the village has retained the exact same population of 436! Just outside the village he is distracted by a young woman who falls from her horse and his vehicle hits a pothole and bursts two tires. He doesn’t get help from the young woman, Courtney, who instead tells him to walk his way back to the nearest town, but deputy Bobby comes by and drives him to the village. With no places for rent, Steve is put up at the house of Courtney & her mother.
Something is so apparently off with the townsfolk – some seem hostile to Steve, some keep staring at him and others seem overly friendly & welcoming. There is also allusions to something that they call “the fever” which apparently affected a young girl who is being treated by the only doctor in town. Steve is plagued by nightmares once he is in there and he starts his work. Finding the people odd he also is horrified to learn that the doctor hasn’t been to a medical college but been trained in a traditional manner by his father before him. Also no one wants to leave the village save for Courtney but she is quite to others about it. People who try to leave Rockwell Falls seem to meet with bizarre and deadly accidents, or just vanish, which the residents believe to be the work of God. The small town crazies who are overly religious angle is played well here. Although he befriends Bobby, Steve finds himself attracted to Courtney who the deputy also fancies and is planning on proposing marriage too. But one afternoon Steve & Courtney talk and end up having sex in the barn, which Bobby just happens to see.
After stumbling upon some books on Biblical numerology, Kady realizes that the townspeople attach a mystical importance to the number 436 and are willing to go to extreme lengths to keep the population at exactly that number, including executing surplus residents. The first scene of the movie shows a baby being born and a man being killed to keep the numbers that way. Anyone who expresses a desire to leave is treated for the ‘fever’ by Dr. Greaver, the town doctor, with electroshock therapy or in extreme cases, frontal lobotomy. It gradually becomes apparent to Kady that the residents of Rockwell Falls have no intention of allowing him to leave. He sneaks in to meet the young girl, Amanda, who tells him that she is being kept a prisoner but she changes her tone when the others come. At a fair Steve is appalled to see a willing woman being executed to keep the number at 436 and goes hysterical as the townsfolk corner him. He is taken to the clinic to be treated for the ‘fever’. He escapes the clinic, and is sheltered by a sympathetic resident who reluctantly helps him plan his escape. Steve sets fire to the town garage as a diversion and rescues Amanda from the clinic, but is forced to leave Courtney behind after discovering that she has been lobotomized by Dr. Greaver.
With two deputies chasing them, Steve & Amanda steal a tow truck and make it to the highway, after Bobby has a change of heart and helps them get away by killing the other deputy, but just like in his dream, Steve sees that there is thunder & lightning and a cross appears in front of the mirror as well as a doll. While he is distracted by these, the truck veers into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer truck, killing them both. As the movie ends, a co-worker of Steve has come to Rockwell Falls to search for the missing Steve (the townsfolk fakes a letter from Steve saying that he has found faith & a lover and has decided to stay in the village) but his car too hits the pothole, bursting his tires. This time the sheriff arrives and says that Steve left recently and takes the man into town, alluding to the wedding of Bobby & Courtney.
The story is ok but the movie drags out a lot with nothing much happening for a long time. It’s not scary at all save for a couple of jumps. Shame that Peter Outerbridge, a man who made his tv character (Dr. David Sandström in Regenesis) memorable for his speeches, doesn’t even speak in this movie till half way through. No bad acting in this but the actors aren’t given much to work with and hence the movie suffers greatly. A reluctant 6 outta 10 from me!