One of these days, I’ll learn to resist new micro-budget “found footage” horror flicks added to the Amazon Prime streaming queue, but today wasn’t that day, and you know what? I’m kind of glad for that fact, because the latest one that I watched — Irish writer/director Peter Bergin’s 2015 offering, Territorial Behavior (which is apparently also available on Blu-ray and DVD, if you’re so inclined) — turned out to be, while admittedly wholly unoriginal, pretty fun, well-executed, suspenseful stuff.
What Bergin is aiming for here is the classic bait-and-switch : outdoor survival instructor Bailey Rhodes (played with something more than competence but less than actual charisma by Ronan Murphy) heads out to the Montana (by way of Ireland) wilderness to film a tutorial video for prospective students/clients, but he soon finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of a group of violent poachers who seem, shall we say, overly protective of the area. In fairly short order our guy Bailey is plunged into a real struggle for survival that he’s only marginally (at best) prepared for, but when he begins to piece together various clues he finds in the wild, he comes to the conclusion that there’s likely something far more dangerous after him than his human antagonists, and guess what? That means this would-be rugged outdoorsman is way out of his depth —
It has to be said that the Irish scenery in this flick is absolutely beautiful and not altogether ineffective as a stand-in for Montana, and that the actors (special props to Bridget O’Connor as Amber, Corey Macri as local sheriff Marvin Krantz, and Aaron Lee Reed as sleazebag poacher Todd) sound more or less quasi-authentically American, so while the illusion isn’t complete, it’s complete enough, especially for a shoestring production of this nature, to be considered as convincing as possible. Ditto for the “shaky-cam” footage, which never becomes grating and manages to avoid some of the obvious logical contradictions (how can he be standing in front of the camera if he’s holding it, etc.) that too often plague this budget-conscious subgenre. These probably qualify as low-grade compliments to those pre-disposed to write off anything and everything “found footage,” sure, but they belie a level of care and attempted professionalism that those of us who do still spend a fair amount of time watching these things will certainly appreciate.
What’s a little less easy to be kind towards is the fact that the plot for Territorial Behavior is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, to the point where you pretty much know exactly what is going to happen and when, but at least Bergin is skilled enough with the atmospherics to maintain your interest throughout. He has a pretty good grasp on what he can successfully pull off and what would be ridiculous to even try, and his strategy of keeping the fight well within his weight class actually allows him to land some fairly solid punches on occasion, even if you see all of ’em coming from a mile away. Too many other newbie directors in his position let their ambitions get the better of their abilities, resources, or both, but if you can do simple and straightforward better than you can do artsy and experimental, trust me — stick with the simple and straightforward. I’m pleased to report that’s precisely the philosophy this film adheres to.
Still, there’s no doubt your enjoyment of Territorial Behavior is going to be entirely dependent on how sick of the “mockumentary” conceit you happen to be personally. If you can’t stomach it for any reason, then nothing here’s going to change your mind. And if you’re looking for at least something of a new take on a very shop-worn trope, you’re not gonna find that here, either. If you’re still a fan of “found footage” in a general sense, though, and merely need to see it done with an admirable level of care, concern, and attention to details both large and small, then this admittedly modest production should prove to be right up your alley. It’s nothing you’re going to want to rush to see ASAP by any means, but if you do decide to give it a go, you’ll be happy that you did.
So does that mean this was a subdued but positive review, or a politely negative one?