What’s it About?
Two estranged brothers reunite at their childhood home in the Alaskan wild. They set out on a two-day hike and are stalked by an unrelenting grizzly bear.
Directed by David Hackl
“Grizzly” director, David Hackl, has been around as a pretty competant production designer, AD and Second Unit Director for many recent pictures that have spanned a couple of “Saw” films and even the cool sci fi series “Lexx” from a few years back. His next film, “Life on the Line” will star heavy hitters like John Travolta and Kate Bosworth and is due later this year. His recent film, “Grizzly” was released in 2014 and I must admit to liking it’s laudable creature feature antics that slightly reflect entertaining “killer animal on the loose” flicks like “The Edge,” “The Ghost and Darkness” and even “Day of the Animals.”
Many can make the obvious comparisons of “Grizzly” being a land locked “Jaws,” of course, but this film is nowhere on the level and complexity of that movie but Hackl uses it as a template to exercise some reverent manipulations that reminds one of those fun days of goofy “man vs animal” films of the 70’s and 80’s. It is because of some of the tongue in cheek kitsch that Hackl throws into the movie that made it all kind of work for me. It isn’t the new “Jaws” or even as definitive as “The Ghost and the Darkness” but it surely has that goofy charm that fans of movies, like say, “Orca” could appreciate.
James Marsden (X Men, 30 Rock, X2) plays the newly paroled Rowan, our protagonist, who is hired to return back home to his old Alaskan stomping grounds to track a missing poacher who has disappeared into the wild. When he returns, he immediately is pulled into a confrontation after accidentally propositioning a prostitute (accidentally, yeah right). Lo and behold, Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea, The Mist, The Punisher) plays his older brother, Beckett, who is also a Sheriff’s Deputy and ends up arresting Rowan.
The two brothers are forced into a reconciliation that will prove trouble-some. After letting him go and after the obligatory sibling angst and anger is explored, Beckett lets Rowan stay with him at his home. We eventually learn that Beckett’s wife, Michelle (Piper Perabo of Covert Affairs) is a mute-deaf, conservationist out in the Alaskan wilderness, taking pictures and documenting the wildlife, which includes observing the poaching and deforestation that is causing an increase in animal attacks. Especially those involving Grizzly bears. And this one Grizzly, is certainly not in a very kind mood and does not wish to share his forest with humans.
Those who watch “Grizzly” will pretty much know what will unfold through-out the film since the film does not take great pains to be extremely unique or singularly inventive on any level. But what Hackl does is serve up a re-iteration of the classic “animal turned mass murderer” tropes and to the movie’s benefit, it all seems to work in a wacky (yeah, that’s a specific cinematic critique) and nail-bting way.
Billy Bob Thornton, for example, is the indisputable caricature of Quint from Jaws, a character that is a loner, a hunter, a tracker and who seems to know all about the Grizzly bear that is out slaughtering poachers, ax men and hikers alike. This Grizzly (No CGI involved with rendering this bad boy) is more like 3 tons of hungry, pissed off bear. Thornton’s Douglass, is totally like-able and accessible as the surly, abrasive and experienced Ahab figure in “Grizzly.” Douglass is the know it all animal expert that clashes with Beckett and his wife, Michelle, on almost every level.
Scott Glenn (Silence of the Lambs) plays an Alaskan Sheriff, named Sully, who is forced to hire Douglass as Beckett, Rowan and a local Doctor (and Rowan’s ex flame) named Kaley go out to find Michelle and try to prevent the Grizzly from more bodies from turning up as a result of the dangerous “Rogue” bear. Yeah, Thornton calls it a “rogue” bear. If ya gotta steal, then steal from the best, no? Hackl tackles the film commendably with nice and gritty cinematography by James Liston (Canin in the Woods), a slick and dangerous score by Marcus Trumpp (who capably scored World War Z) and a brisk, chop chop running time. Hackl’s decisive direction and knowledge of what makes it all work is indeed creditable.
The bear, named Bart, is a menacing monster. Hackl lets us see everything up close, including the attacks that look very real and had me wondering how they pulled it all off. I would safely assume that it was all done with professional wranglers and skilled stunt people alike. The film has it’s share of brutal attacks, gore, chases, close calls and stunts. As the body count continues and the confrontations increase, the movie has very little time for us to really examine everything that is going on.
This is actually to the advantage of the film-makers. Here, Hackl gives us some character development but never really explores them throughly and I really didn’t care. In “Grizzly” just knowing and learning the basics about everyone is sufficient since I grew impatient for the mayhem to begin. And here, Hackl delivers the mayhem quicky and savagely.
The lush and beautiful British Columbia stands in as Alaska and Liston really shows us the surroundings with a dangerous eye, making the woods and the interiors an integral part of the story and the movie. The movie also nods and winks to many other similar films and sometimes Hackl film walks that thin line between reverance and mimickry. The Ahab-esque obssession of Thornton’s Douglass is a very relevant example.
Every actor on display here is in it for the long haul and even though they escape any scenery chewing or over the top antics, they never really shine either. They seem as if going thru the motions most of the time until Hackl forces them into action, and then Jane, Marsden, Glenn and Perabo kick into high gear. It doesn’t hinder the fun at all, luckily. Thornton has the meaty role in this, though, and his bespeckled and driven Douglass is indeed the most colorful of the bunch. His final showdown with the Grizzly was actually pretty bad ass.
Hackl’s “Grizzly” is a capable, desolute and sometimes witty time waster. It is a meritorious “man vs animal and nature” outing that has much to enjoy in the action and bloodletting sequences but can get bogged down in the obvious “been there, seen that” elements in many places. The tension is just boilerplate and garden variety but the performances are not a complete waste, given the subject matter. The anemic performances actually contrast much of what else happens in the movie, when things are slow.
“Grizzly” can be weak in spots when trying to be heady and something more than what it is (the politics, arguments and debates over conservation, de-forestation and even the encroachment can be trite at times). But for a lazy afternoon, when sitting in your ass grove on the Sofa, you can’t go wrong checking out “Grizzly” between episodes of Helix or 12 Monkeys on Syfy. Definitely consider as a rental before a purchase or only buy if it is at a very wallet-happy price.