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Review: The Wild Man – “Embrace its fresh take and unpredictable plot”

New Bigfoot movie The Wild Man is directed by Ryan Justice (Followers) and stars Lauren Crandall (Share or Die), Julian Green (Lovecraft Country), Michael Paré (Eddie and the Dreamers, Streets of Fire) and David E. McMahon (Blind Cop 2).

Young women have been going missing in the Florida Everglades and the locals have two main suspects: wild, gun-toting, weirdo hermit and self-proclaimed Skunk Ape tracker, Dale (McMahon), and the Skunk Ape itself. Florida’s answer to Bigfoot, the unfortunately-monikered Skunk Ape is an eight-foot tall biped that stinks to high heaven and has been allegedly spotted many times by the local folks. Dale probably doesn’t smell much better and is the epitome of ‘Florida Man’ a total wild card who our leads instantly tag as being a redneck, probably on meth.

Our leads are Sarah (Crandall) and Brandon (Green), girlfriend-boyfriend wannabe documentary makers who have caught a whiff of Skunk Ape and think it smells like fame and fortune. Hiring Dale to escort them into Skunk Ape territory to hunt for the elusive, possibly young-woman-murdering beast, Sarah and Brandon soon discover the Skunk Ape is just the tip of a cryptid-conspiracy iceberg that ends way beyond where they couple possibly have ever imagined.

Mostly found footage in format, a few shots and sequences aside, The Wild Man mostly leans into the strengths of the sub-genre, using the first-person POV for immediacy and the picture breakups to hide the Skunk Ape suit’s shortcomings. The Blair Witch Project was clearly a touchstone for the cast and crew with many scenes, set-ups and even the design of Dale’s suspended-in-twig-sculptures Skunk Ape lures indebted to the 1999 classic.

The first third even takes us around town interviewing the locals and then into the woods to camp overnight and be beset by strange noises, but, after a plot twist, The Wild Man shoots off down its own path which is more akin to The X-Files – all dodgy deepthroat contacts and breaking into government facilities. It’s a fresh take and there are plenty more unexpected twists and turns fuelling The Wild Man to a pretty action-packed climax.

The production design in the Top Secret facility is really eye-catching with the pipes and screens laden set lit almost Giallo style in bright primary colour red and blue, and the reveals and wrap-up show clear storytelling chops. It is the film’s limitations that make long dialogue and info dump scenes a slog and the surprisingly shonky Skunk Ape suit that spoils the attack scenes.

In the set-up there’s a clear and obvious mix of actors and non-actors having been given a few prompts to try and seem natural, but our leads struggle a few times too. An overlong scene of Dale crawling around and being overly outlandish while showing the documentary makers how he tracks the Skunk Ape is the kind of performance that feels like it’s been encouraged to go too far off the rails, when it would have benefited more from being reined in, with the actor a little let down by the director and editor. That this is then followed by not one but two very earnest fireside monologues destroys any gravitas these scenes may have had, and a scene between Sarah and Brandon in their hotel room later is done in one very long very cringe take that again creates perceived acting deficiencies where a few cuts and some guidance and performance protection would have avoided this.

Some instances of redneck racist intimidation add another level to proceedings and feel like they pose the crew a greater threat than the Skunk Ape itself. One actually really well-done jump scare aside, we see far too much of the store-bought suit for the titular creature to ever seem threatening, let alone scary, which is a shame, and, I’m sorry, but “Skunk Ape” made me snigger every time it was uttered – which is every other line.

In a nutshell: If you’re into your cryptids and found-footage horror then there’s fun and value to be had in The Wild Man, if you just kick back, embrace its fresh take and unpredictable plot, and don’t focus too much on its shortcomings.

The Wild Man is released on digital on the 30th of September, then will be available on Terror Films YouTube channel on the 7th of October and on Kings of Horror YouTube channel on the 14th of October.

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