Friday, October 2, 2015

Into the Grizzly Maze (2015) review


James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Piper Perabo (Michelle), Scott Glenn (Sully), Michaela McManus (Kaley), Bart the Bear (The Killer Grizzly), Billy Bob Thornton (Douglass), Adam Beach (Johnny Cadillac), Kelly Curran (Amber)

Directed by David Hackl

The Short Version: Grisly killer Grizzly movie about a four-legged Jason Voorhees that stalks and eats assorted loggers, poachers and hunters trapped in the title wooded labyrinth. Ostensibly an unacknowledged remake of William Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), director Hackl (SAW V) pits a strong cast against nature much like Girdler did in his 70s smash. Unlike the earlier ursine classic, this Super Bear sneaks up on ya', providing viewers with a lot of those, "Look out, he's right behind you", moments from all your finer slasher flicks. If you've ever wanted to see Billy Bob Thornton with half his face torn off staring down a charging Grizzly, this one's for you. Loosely based on Timothy Treadwell, the controversial 'Grizzly Man', any attempt at seriousness is obliterated during a spectacularly over the top, bear-handed brawl at film's end. With a handful of faults there's still a bit of fun to be had in this B(ear)movie.

Two brothers, one a cop, the other an ex-con, put their differences aside when they must journey into the Alaskan wilderness to locate a wife and a close friend after a rampaging Grizzly has begun feasting on the local populace. Along with an eccentric hunter, the group move deeper into the woods, and are soon stalked by the stealthy Grizzly, intent on making them its next meal.

The second feature from the director of SAW V (2008) is a good old-fashioned monster movie reminiscent of the surge of 'Nature Gone Wild' flicks back in the 1970s. Since its main characters have a cop, a conservationist, and a kooky hunter among the bunch, the scent of JAWS (1975) is in the air, or that might just be the smell of an unacknowledged remake of William Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), instead. Mixing CGI and practical effects, it's an occasionally wobbly pairing; but for every severed limb or Piper Perabo falling into the rotted guts of a moose carcass, there's CGI blood, fire, and enraged bear face. 

Unfortunately, Hackl's movie went through a dense maze till audiences finally got a chance to see it, and, unfortunately, it's been a mostly sour reception.

Sporting an unusually good cast for what is basically a flashier example of a SyFy Channel "original", INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE may as well of debuted there. Initially intended for wide release, original distributor Open Road Films dropped the picture last year and Vertical Entertainment picked it up. It got a virtually non-existent limited release in June, 2015 after a VOD premiere earlier this year in May. Additionally, the picture has went through four different titles in almost as many years. Originally titled RED MACHINE, Open Road changed it to ENDANGERED some time after acquiring the property, and then later tagged it with the GRIZZLY moniker. Shot in 2012 and taking some three years to see the light of a projector (or DVD player), it finally ended up with the less than encouraging title of INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE.

RED MACHINE was arguably the best title for the picture; it had significance since it was the name of a big Grizzly known to the late Timothy Treadwell, a controversial bear enthusiast and documentary filmmaker. Both Treadwell and his girlfriend were, to put it mildly, killed in 2003 by a bear, and were the subject of Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005). The GRIZZLY MAZE title is likewise significant--Nick Jans wrote a book on Treadwell titled 'The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears'--only most people won't know what a 'Grizzly Maze' is.

Given the strong cast, the participants all give believable line delivery even if the film feels like scenes were either left on the cutting room floor, or simply aren't connected very well. We get the 'bear' minimum (pun intended) of details about the characters, and the occasional backstory that subs for genuine exposition. Despite big names like James Marsden (Rowan), Thomas Jane (Beckett), Scott Glenn (Sully) and Thornton (Douglass), so little is done with them that it keeps the movie confined to SyFy Channel purgatory; granted, for many, this will be a recommendation. 

Adrien Brody and Gerard Butler were reportedly attached to play the roles of Rowan and Beckett respectively. Butler had reservations about the fate of his character and eventually bowed out, as did Brody.

Further, an early trailer contains shots and dialog not in the release version. Curiously, an unnecessary sub-plot about bear poachers and their connection to a character whom we bear-ly see was left in, crowding an already overly populated cast list for an 84 minute movie (89 counting ending credits).

Initial sources reported this to be a PG-13 rated movie, but a scene of gratuitous nudity changes all that; while welcome, this too feels out of place. There's quite a bit of grisly Grizzly violence to keep the pacing up. Some of this appears to have been cut for whatever reason, but the attack sequences are energetic if occasionally edited so tightly we barely get to absorb the moment. However, the action is no-holds-barred during the film's last ten incredible minutes....

Those who have issues with CGI will find plenty to stir them up in Hackl's movie. The use of computer imagery is obvious much of the time, the most blatant being the insanely over the top finale. Any deficiencies ailing INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE are cured during the literal man-vs-bear climax. The filmmakers have envisioned a cartoonishly ballsy showdown that recalls the similar tussle with the mutant bear of PROPHECY (1979), but takes things way off course in what could be described as a bear-handed (last one, promise) brawl. Said battle royal involves a ring of fire, a boat, bladed weapons, and the massive Grizzly smacking the testosterone-infused male cast members from one side of the screen to the other. 

Many of the reviews trash the CGI seen here, but it's not as bad as what passes for special effects on those lazily put together monster pictures on the SyFy Channel. One of the best SPX in the picture is the living and breathing Bart the Bear 2 (who's sixth billed!), the successor to Bart the Bear--the Alaskan Grizzly actor who appeared in movies like THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR (1986), THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988), and THE EDGE (1997). Incidentally, Bart's mother was the title GRIZZLY (1976) in William Girdler's box office hit. Bart 2 is no relation, but has amassed quite a resume. 

There are scenes where it's all real bear, CGI bear, and moments where it appears Bart's face has been augmented to look vicious and ready to dine on whichever member of the cast is currently in his path. Moreover, I can't recall another rampaging bear movie where the ursine killer could Pearl Harbor its victims the way Bart the slasher bear does. It's another area of the film where the unreality of it all balances out the production anomalies.

With the aforementioned finale capping the picture on one helluva note, there's also some stunning photography from James Liston and a rousing horror score by Marcus Trumpp; not to mention a lot of macho posturing you just don't see anymore.

If you're a fan of Girdler's GRIZZLY (1976), you'll want to see this. If a modern update of JAWS with Bart the Bear in place of Bruce the Shark interests you, you might want to give this one a look. If seeing Billy Bob Thornton with half his face torn off staring down a charging Grizzly sounds appealing, this awkwardly, and numerously titled horror movie is a surprisingly entertaining popcorn muncher.

This review is representative of the Sony DVD. Extras and Specs: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; no major extras aside from various trailers.
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