Archive for June 11, 2017

Sometimes you just know what a movie’s about before you’ve even seen it.

Take, for instance, the low-budget 2015 Canadian production Man Vs that I checked out on Netflix the other night (I gather that it’s also available on DVD). With a title like that, is there any doubt in your mind that we’re going to have some kind of “reality” TV theme going on here? And that it’s most likely a “found footage” film?

You already know the answers to both those questions, so perhaps the first (and, as it turns out, only) surprise on offer from director Adam Massey and his screenwriter, Thomas Michael (working from a story by Massey himself) is that the “reality” host that their protagonist, Doug (played by Chris Diamantopoulos), is based on has a lot more in common with Bear Grylls than he does with Adam Richman. Nobody’s eating a 20-pound burrito or a six-foot-long hoagie sandwich in this flick; instead we’re witnessing one man’s desperate struggle for survival in the Rockwood Conservation Area, a rugged and unforgiving (and, it must be said, quite scenic) expanse of northern Ontario wilderness that most of us would probably be able to make a go of it in for maybe one day, tops. For the sake of his popular TV show, though, Doug’s gonna try to get through five.

Almost immediately, there are problems — not just for Doug, but for the film itself. Diamantopoulos isn’t one of them, fortunately — he’s reasonably charismatic, comes off as being generally likable, and commits himself to his role in the way that one must for these, essentially, one-man productions (don’t get me wrong, he ain’t Redford in All Is Lost, but he more than gets the job done) — but there’s a lot of suspect editing that mars what would otherwise be a nicely-paced first two acts and reduces the believability factor that Massey and his star work so hard on selling, there are several “how is he getting this shot done?” logical gaps that are difficult to overlook, and a handful of the “life-threatening” moments are staged in such a manner that calling them “highly suspect” is probably being kind. Ya know what, though? I can overlook all that given the modest (speaking of being kind) budget Massey and Co. had to work with.

Here’s what I can’t overlook : this friggin’ movie telegraphs its big “shocker” moment so early on that it absolutely ruins the third act — and said act is so lousy in and of itself that really doesn’t need any extra help when it comes to sucking.

In case you haven’t figured it out,  the whole shtick here is that Doug’s not out in the woods by himself. He’s being stalked, Predator-style, by —- something. Now, the minute you glom onto this fact, you already know there’s only a few ways things can go — and Massey opts for the easiest, lamest possibility you can imagine, spells it out for you clear as day, then seems to forget he did so and tries to surprise you with a “revelation” that’s already, in modern parlance, been thoroughly “spoiled” in his own goddamn script. There’s no way that’s gonna work, because it just plain can’t. An Alzheimer’s patient would still see the ending to this thing coming a mile off. Throw in a whole lot of dodgy CGI, and what you’ve got is a film that would be a case study in self-sabotage even if the first 2/3 of its runtime was absolutely flawless — which it isn’t by any stretch, but damn, compared to the final 20 minutes or so, it’s Oscar-caliber stuff.

I hate to be too hard on Man Vs. I really do. You can tell that a lot of work went into getting this thing in the can and that it was probably an exhausting shoot. There’s a really solid performance anchoring the whole thing. Stitching together the “found footage” and “survival horror” genres is a natural. And there’s a lot of breathtaking scenery in front of the lens for nature-lovers to enjoy. But you can’t show your hand at the poker table, pull your cards back close to your chest, and then expect to collect the pot.

I’m not one to stretch a metaphor, but seriously — Massey’s either going to have to raise the stakes considerably for his next feature, or else just fold.