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Film / The Burrowers

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"You'll be awake in your grave. You'll be alive when they feed."

A 2009 independent Western horror film which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before being released on DVD. The plot concerns a family of Dakota Territory settlers who are viciously attacked and kidnapped from their home. When Irish immigrant Fergus Coffey returns to find his intended bride missing, he believes the family to have been taken by Indians and assembles a posse to rescue them. However, they soon discover that rapacious natives would be a kindness compared to the inhuman horror lurking beneath the ground.

Probably the best movie about cowboys fighting worm-people featuring Clancy Brown that you'll see this year.

Not to be confused with The Borrowers.


  • An Arm and a Leg: Happens to the unnamed female victim of the Burrowers and Parcher after Coffey tries to move his corpse, highlighting how the poison works. It also happens to Callaghan, who is given an entirely unnecessary amputation.
  • And I Must Scream: A variation. The victims are not trapped forever, but they are almost completely paralyzed by poison which gradually softens their organs and flesh. They are apparently conscious the entire time, but cannot sleep, move, or speak. They just lay there in the soil, eyes wide open, feeling their own bodies rot, until the Burrowers return for them.
  • Anyone Can Die: In order of death, Mary-Anne Stewart, John Clay, Dobie Spacks, Will Parcher, Callaghan, Faith.
  • Army Scout: A Native American scout who cannot accurately translate another Indian's language. When the imprisoned Indian taunts him, he tortures the prisoner.
  • Attempted Rape: Downplayed. Dobie Spacks is about to put the moves on a paralyzed and helpless girl when he realizes that she's still fully conscious and aware of what's going on.
  • Asshole Victim: Parcher. After being poisoned by the creatures, he tries to conceal his condition from Coffey and Callaghan. Furthermore, as the only member of the posse conversant in Plains Indians dialects, he deliberately omits warnings that he is already as good as dead and that he will only draw the creatures to him. Instead, he insists that the other two members stay and protect him as he grows weaker, even as he proves to be more of a hindrance than helpful.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Burrowers act similarly to trapdoor spiders, albeit with qualities similar to rats and moles.
  • Buried Alive: Part of the modus operandi of the creatures, likely to allow the poison time to work through their victims' bodies while keeping them from being taken by other predators.
  • Camp Cook: Callaghan. In keeping with the stereotype, he is a colored servant (though he insists that he is employed by choice) whose cooking is detested.
  • The Cavalry: Subverted. While the cavalry respond to Coffey's call for help, they end up murdering two innocent people and "accidentally" killing a third, all the while failing to address the Burrower problem.
  • Cavalry Officer: Perhaps the most brutally sadistic and completely oblivious cavalry officer.
  • Cowboy: Most of the main characters are this by profession.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Everything about the way the creatures kill, though we see this happen in full with Parcher. While it is unclear as to whether or not the poison directly affects the mind, it is evident that within hours of being wounded, his skin is covered in lesions and his muscles have weakened to the point where he cannot stand or shoot a gun with any accuracy. When Parcher is finally set upon by the creatures, they feast on his body while he is still alive.
  • The Dandy: Henry Victor is a psychotic breed of dandy, with his ridiculous moustache, moustache comb, and tobacco pouch made from a Native American's scrotum.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In spades. Racism runs rampant among whites and Plains Indians alike. Dobie's mother is also rather eager to allow her only son to go off with a posse going into possibly-hostile Indian territory so that he comes back a man.
  • Downer Ending: The entire posse dies save Coffey, Mary-Anne was dead from the beginning, and the two Plains Indians who know the creatures' weaknesses are ignorantly lynched by Henry Victor, who waltzes off with a smug smile on his face.
  • Darkness Equals Death: The creatures only emerge at night to find prey and feed on their victims.
  • Dwindling Party: By the end of the film, only Coffey remains of the original posse.
  • Foreshadowing: The hymn sung near the beginning; Alas! and did my Savior bleed, And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head, For such a worm as I?
  • Gaia's Vengeance: A very mild example. The creatures wouldn't normally interact with humans much, but their usual diet of buffalo has been all but wiped out by humanity. As a result, they've started snacking on other food sources.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Parcher and Clay are long-time partners.
  • Hope Spot: When the Ute seem to have a method of killing the Burrowers and when Coffey goes for help. Both times, the hope is quickly and brutally destroyed.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Manifest Destiny is not only the cause of the attacks, but is also ultimately responsible for letting them go unchecked, as westward expansion across the plains kills off Burrowers' food source as well as those who know how to deal with them.
  • Indian Maiden: Averted. She is helpful, but not a romanticized character or a love interest, and is actually a recent widow.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The song over the ending credits. Particularly unsettling is the lyric, 'go to sleep, you little baby...' considering what the creatures do to people.
  • It's All About Me: Henry Victor loves being in charge, and won't hesitate to remind others that he's the one with the authority. Similarly with Parcher, who won't hesitate to put others in danger for his own ends.
  • Karmic Death: The method devised by the Ute to kill the Burrowers. This involves feeding the Burrowers' victims with poison, then stabbing the creatures with spears as they lie incapacitated after consuming their victims' flesh.
  • The Load: Coffey and Dobie are regarded as this by the rest of the posse, being the least experienced members. Dobey is eventually sent back to carry a victim of the Burrowers' attacks to safety and ends up becoming another victim himself. By the end of the film however, Coffey Took a Level in Badass as he single-handedly manages to fight off two of the creatures with little more than Improvised Weapons and finishes off those debilitated from consuming Parcher's corpse. In an inversion, Parcher becomes this later on in the film as he suffers from the Burrowers' venom.
  • Mercy Kill: Encouraged for those attacked by the creatures, as the poison will make them suffer a Fate Worse than Death before they are consumed.
  • Mrs. Exposition: Faith, who does more than anyone else to explain what the creatures are, what they do, and why they are attacking humans.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Coffey is not an action hero gunslinger, and this point is hammered home when his reckless (and badly aimed) shot at a Cree Indian draws the wrath of the entire tribe and leads to Clay's death.
  • Noble Savage: Averted. Even the Indians do some pretty terrible things to survive, or simply out of sheer pettiness. The Army Scout accompanying Victor's cavalry is only too happy to hurt their Indian captive after he is mocked. Likewise, one of the Cree antagonized by the posse makes a point of running up to a mortally-wounded Clay and gleefully caving in his skull. And as for the Utes' method of dealing with the creatures, they look for their victims, feed them poison, and set them out as bait for the creatures.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Despite some of the taglines, the creatures aren't evil so much as they are predators.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Burrowers aren't clearly seen until the climax.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The creatures are not vampires. However, they do share some vampiric traits such as an aversion to sunlight, neck marks on victims, and leaving said victims in a semi-alive state.
  • Posse: Subverted at first. Clay, Parcher, Coffey, and Dobie wait for the cavalry to arrive and accompany them to the suspected abductors. However, when it is clear that the cavalry have no interest in actually saving people, they strike out on their own.
  • Psycho Party Member: Most obviously with Parcher. Before he is attacked and wounded by the Burrowers, he was ruthlessly pragmatic at best, being fully willing to use his remaining team members as bait to draw out the Burrowers.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. The characters aren't overt with their racism, but they use casually racist language. Most characters refer to Indians as 'skins' and a prominent black character is saddled with the nickname 'walnut'. Only Irish Fergus Coffey refers to him by his real name, and this is due to the kinship he feels with him since they've both faced prejudice in America.
  • Sanity Slippage: As Parcher descends further into paralysis, he becomes more and more unhinged.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Fed up with his treatment as a Camp Cook, Callaghan abandons the Army and follows the posse on their mission to find the Stewarts.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: By the end of the film, it is more or less stated that the missing Stewarts have been long dead. Every named character dies except for Fergus Coffey and the utterly psychotic Henry Victor, who lynches two innocent Indians, and kills Callaghan by botching an unnecessary amputation. Worse, with the two Indians dead, their knowledge of how to deal with the Burrowers may well be lost for good. It's deeply implied that the Burrowers' attacks will continue and nothing has really changed.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The Burrowers are relentless in hounding humans, chasing them a great distance, long after it's clear their prey is fighting back. Probably justified that with the buffalo gone, they have no other source of food.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The Burrowers only emerge and attack at night, abducting their victims and hiding them away for later consumption.
  • Wormsign: Shifting clumps of grass are the only things that really give away nearby Burrowers.