Thursday, August 13, 2015

Meat is Murder in Into the Grizzly Maze: A Film Review

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*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by Sony Pictures.

Director: David Hackl.

Writers: Jack Reher and Guy Moshe.

Cast: James Marsden, Thomas Jane, Piper Perabo, Scott Glenn and Billy Bob Thornton.

“When a grizzly gets angry, they don't give a shit whether you're a logger or a treehugger. All of you taste the same.”

David Hackl (Saw V) and his all-star cast take you deep into Alaska's picturesque woods in search of a killer bear in Into The Grizzly Maze. The film, which was actually shot in Vancouver, is an intense thriller with a clear moral agenda—to raise awareness about our destructive role in environmental degradation. While the film's message is strong, it's not too heavy-handed in its delivery, still allowing for an action-packed “natural horror”adventure. Though unnecessary, the celebrity cast makes for a more enjoyable watch; it's fun to see big name actors like Billy Bob Thornton (Monster's Ball) venture into the woods, looking to take on a blood-thirsty beast. Albeit not as gripping as one might hope, the story serves a purpose, and the stunning scenery as well as Bart the Bear (Into the Wild) are sure to please. Despite a couple of dull stereotypical characters and tropes, and the needless use of CGI in a few scenes, getting lost inside the Grizzly Maze isn't all that bad.

After doing time, Rowan (James Marsden of X-Men fame) returns to his quaint Alaskan hometown, to help find a missing friend. His friend's involvement in an illegal poaching ring may have proved more than he could handle. Upon his arrival, Rowan reconnects with his brother, Beckett (Thomas Jane, The Mist), a police officer tracking his deaf ecologist wife to save her from the threat of a rogue grizzly bear that's developed a taste for human flesh. Unbeknownst to Rowan, Beckett brought along a familiar face from his past who makes for an unexpected homecoming. Surprise run-ins are a pattern in this film, as the group faces off with the ferocious grizzly bear, well-known screwball hunter, Douglass (Billy Bob Thornton), and a shifty sheriff with ulterior motives.

Thomas Jane looks lost in the woods as Beckett.

Unfortunately, there's so much going on in Grizzly Maze that the story loses its grip. There are far too many characters to keep track of, and while the tension within the main circle adds depth, it also proves to be annoying. The film would have been more entertaining had it focused more on the brothers, and less on their relationships with the two female characters. In fact, Michelle (Piper Perabo, Covert Affairs) and Kaley (Michaela McManus, "Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit") seem like an after thought—like they were written in to save face. These characters are both disadvantaged, one deaf and the other injured, which is irritating and also perpetuates the stereotype of the damsel in distress. Furthermore, it takes away from the other action going on, knocking the film's credibility down a few notches. More brother bonding and a stronger focus on Douglass's character would be more satisfying.

Thankfully, the big draw actors do come in handy; at least we get some bang for our buck, namely from Thornton, who excels in playing quirky unstable characters. Rowan is arguably the second most interesting character (if you don't count the bear). James Marsden was a perfect choice for the handsome, quintessential small town bad boy who's shed some of his badness. Who better to play a by the book, hunter-turned-police officer than Thomas Jane? Unfortunately for Jane, Beckett, needed more development in order to match his acting ability. It was a treat to see Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs) back on the big screen, kicking it old school with a 'stache and an attitude. Too bad his storyline was a bit dry.

Bart the Bear, ready for his close-up.

In Grizzly Maze, the setting and tone play as big a part as the big-name actors do, and help hammer home that message about conservation. Hackl does a nice job of portraying the woods as both a tranquil paradise and a terrifying labyrinth where danger lurks around every tree trunk. A few scenes juxtapose a vibrant forest with the depravity of a logging site. Similarly, the comparison of the bear's “kill site” and that of a poacher's offers a stark contrast, but also suggests that animals and humans are alike in ways—both killers but with different motives. The bear, aka “Red Machine” is present in every scene, even when he's not visible; you hear him stomping around, breathing, and often see through his perspective. This both enhances the intensity of the picture and reinforces the human-animal connection.

Thematically, the Maze goes deeper than expected. Even the character's names carry significance: Douglass and Rowan are both named after trees, and the name Beckett means stream or brook. These three characters seem most attached to the woods, and most familiar with the infamous “grizzly maze.” Furthermore, Douglass and Rowan possess a wild side likened to the bear, and the DVD's cover image suggests that Rowan and Red Machine are one in the same. How fitting that the film's climax involves a fight between the two. CGI aside, the fight is pretty awesome!

Into the Grizzly Maze is not the terrifying B-horror feature that 1976's Grizzly was. While that bear mutilated hikers and campers, this one predominately ravages hunters and loggers. There's something satisfying about seeing the grizzly destroy bad guys, and it also helps relay that moral message. The fact that Red Machine also torments the good guys harkens back to what Douglass says about how the animal can't tell the difference—they taste the same. While the story has its dull moments, the acting is solid, and Bart the Bear stealing scenes from the cast is thoroughly entertaining.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10.

Several clips for the film are available here:

Into the Grizzly Maze Clips on 28DLA

Another grisly/Grizzly horror classic:

1976's Grizzly

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