Steve (Jeremy Sisto) from the Census Bureau has just arrived in the quaint town of Rockwell Falls. His mission is to figure out why every year the population equals exactly 436 people. The locals welcome him with open arms, particularly Deputy Bobby (Fred Durst) and his girlfriend Courtney (Charlotte Sullivan). Steve finds out too late that the townsfolk are mighty religious, and believe that God punishes anyone who tries to leave. They are also determined that he become a resident.
Population 436 can hardly be called outright scary, at least not in terms of boo! scares; there aren’t any monsters and there isn’t even much gore. What makes it eerie is its exploration of the power of group-think—the townspeople are determined to act as a unit and kill anyone who gets in their way. Rockwell Falls is more than likely named for Norman Rockwell, an artist famous for his cutesy paintings of small-town Americana. Like any small town, people know who’s who, and Steve is only there one night before every person he sees greets him by name without being formally introduced to him. Similar to A Clockwork Orange, the movie poses the question of whether or not people can live peaceably amongst themselves without grinding totalitarianism to keep them in line. There is “never any crime in Rockwell Falls” because people die if they misbehave.
Good performances abound, even from child actors. I’m not at all a fan of Limp Bizkit, but I appreciate Fred Durst’s transformation from hardcore angry rocker to sweet, gullible Bobby.
The special effects are few and decent, except for a horrible-looking CGI fire. Overall, the film is well-written, pretty original, and somewhat unpredictable.