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THE WILD MAN (aka SKUNK APE, THE FLORIDA MONSTER, 2022)

Directed by Ryan Justice.
Written by Sean Michael Gloria, Ian Longen.
Starring Lauren Crandall, Julian Green, Mike Reed, David E. McMahon, Michael Paré, Sean Michael Gloria, Eric Henderson, Nicholas Denmon, Tom Parnell, Wade Hunt Williams, Tom Elgin, Jorge Diaz, Nishant Gogna
Check out the website here!!

Sarah (played by Lauren Crandall) is a wide-eyed documentarian who has brought her film crew Brandon (played by Julian Green) and Tim (Mike Reed) to Florida to investigate a recent missing person case. While there are a few theories, the locals believe a large bipedal cryptid known as the Skunk Ape is the culprit behind the abductions. But what this intrepid crew of filmmakers find proves to be only the tip of the iceberg.

THE WILD MAN is both a Bigfoot film and a found footage film, two genres that are cheap to make and often get scoffed at in more elevated horror circles. They also fit hand in hand because most pics of the elusive Bigfoot are shaky and badly produced, just like the hand held technique used in most found footage films. Unfortunately, there are many films that blend these two genres. Some capably like WILLOW CREEK and EXISTS, and some not so capably. THE WILD MAN attempts to stand out among the herd by making the whole thing not only about bigfoot but a bigger conspiracy. But unfortunately, that’s where the film goes off the rails and its minute budget begins to show.

THE WILD MAN starts out strong with the three leads, Crandall, Green, and Reed, being very natural in front of the camera, with realistic dialog and performances. These three actors are solid in their deliveries and feel like real people being captured candidly, which always is a strength in found footage horror. Unfortunately, once they get into the investigation, they begin encountering people who don’t feel as natural. While David E. McMahon has some strong comic timing, his over the top dialog and cornpone accent makes him feel like a parody and nudges the tone from serious horror movie to spoof. I don’t want to say his performance is bad. It’s just not good for this film and better for something more comedically toned. Still, the film manages to keep things natural for about two thirds of the film until the gang uncovers a large conspiracy right under their noses. Found footage works best when the cast is made of unknowns, so when Michael Pare shows up as secret ops Captain Stryker (STRYKER!) it took me completely out of the movie. He’s fine in the role, but too recognizable for a film attempting to fool you that it is real footage found.

Not that the film really goes out of its way to make you think this is real found footage. Music is added in suspenseful moments. Multiple camera angles from cameras other than the investigators. Weird shifts in POV and jarring edits between cameras. All of the rules of making the film feel authentic are broken, which only makes for a more frustrating film for those looking to be thrilled by the first person POV method. The most frustrating is that every time the skunk ape attacks, the film repeatedly shifts to the POV looking up to the ape wailing on the person even though most of the time, they don’t even have a camera on them.

I know my tendency to rip on found footage films who use production to enhance the tension, emotion, and cohesion of the film may feel like nitpicking, but if you’re not going for authenticity, just don’t make a movie that is trying to give the illusion of being just that. The bigfoot, while obviously a normal sized man in a suit, actually looks decent. Most of the time he is in motion and the camera doesn’t linger on the monster, so you can’t tell that the mask it is wearing is rather stiff and inarticulated.

But the monster is not my biggest beef with THE WILD MAN. I appreciate the film going for something ambitious, but it simply reaches too far in storytelling to convincingly tell a story of such scale as a giant conspiracy beneath the swamps of Florida. Found footage is best told when it focuses on one unique, small incident. The larger the scale and the cracks are shown. The filmmakers try their best, but they have definitely bit off more than they can chew trying to convince the viewer that they are witnessing a massive government conspiracy in a giant underground facility, when it really is just colored lights in an office building.
THE WILD MAN tries to be distinct, but in doing so, it fails to dazzle. The first half holds promise with some solid acting from its three leads, but the further the plot gets away from them, the weaker THE WILD MAN gets.

Check out the trailer here!!