Man Vs. (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
An occasionally intriguing creature-feature, “Man Vs.” appears to be about one thing but it turns out to be something completely different when the third act finally rolls around. Clearly, writers Adam Massey and Thomas Michael, the former also serving as director, have put enough thought into the material to be able to pull off a rather clever misdirect. But the picture is ultimately a disappointment because it fails to dig deeper upon its twist. By the end, I felt as though the real story is just beginning.
Doug (Chris Diamantopoulos) is a professional survivalist who appears on television. With two seasons already behind him and his crew (Drew Nelson, Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson), a third season on a new network means a possibility for their show to reach a wider audience. This time, Doug is dropped off in a forest somewhere in northern Canada where the nearest civilization is hundreds of miles away. By the end of his fifth day in the wilderness, he is to be picked up by the crew and they’ll head back home. That is the plan anyway. We already know something is about to go terribly wrong.
The first act, while hindered at times by slow pacing, is tolerable because we get a chance to measure the protagonist’s knowledge in terms of his occupation. While he knows he needs to be charming on camera, which his crew finds hints they find to be intolerable at times, the writing and the performer ensures that the character is not unbearable. After all, we must stay with him over the course of five days. While not much happens in terms of pushing the plot forward, we get the impression Doug actually knows what he’s doing as looks into the camera and explains how to set up shelter, make traps, and skin animals. I found it to be surprisingly educational.
It is a good decision to minimize jump scares. This way of scaring the audience is expected given that the story takes place in a remote forest and the protagonist does not interact with another human being. By allowing scenes to unfold naturally, sometimes in drawn out ways, we get the opportunity to focus on the surroundings. For instance, Doug begins to suspect eventually that someone, possibly a crazed fan, is following him. In daylight, we look a little closer at the greenery in the background. When there is a lake, our eyes dart to the land on the other side to check if anybody is watching. When it is dark and strange noises are heard, we squint a little bit to be able to make out what’s hidden in the shadows.
I wished, however, that its restraint when it comes to employing jump scares seeped into the visual effects department. CGI in horror pictures that are supposed to be grounded in reality is almost never a good idea even though the CGI is first-rate. (It isn’t in this case.) The jarring mix between real surroundings and heightened effects takes us out of the experience. The type of horror changes from one that is mixed with curiosity to one mixed with disbelief. The final five minutes is superfluous, unnecessary. I wished the writers had come up with a much more thoughtful way to finish the job.