Review - 'Man Vs.' (2015)
For two acts, Man Vs. is a wonderful mashup of Predator meets Bear Grylls, but the third act quickly resorts to poor special effects and a disappointing creature design worthy of primetime SyFy.
Reality TV Survivalist Doug Woods and his crew begin a third season of their underrated hit 'Man Vs,' traveling to northern Ontario and leaving Doug in a desolate area for five days. During the first day and night alone, Doug is able to survive against the odds, starting a fire with an aluminum can and building a shelter, but things suddenly go awry on the second day when Doug comes across a clearing caused by what might have been a meteor. Thinking nothing major of it and more on the situation at hand, Doug continues on his adventure, trapping small animals for food. During the second night, Doug starts hearing strange noises and stays up all night out of fear. He later finds that the rabbits he had trapped were stolen, his satellite phone taken, and the pieces on his chessboard moved to play against him. Frightened and paranoid, Doug thinks it may just be his crew messing with him but comes across a camp similar to his own, like someone’s watching him and learning his survival skills, where he finds his satellite phone completely disassembled. Angrily, Doug decides to call it quits and builds a smoke signal to leave on the fourth day but something powerful throws him into the lake nearby, leaving him cold and bloodied. No more screwing around, Doug makes his way to his crew’s camp only to find it decimated and his friends dead and skinned. That’s when he meets the alien creature that has been following him all along and Doug escapes by using his camera flash to throw the creature off guard, allowing Doug to kick it into a dark pit and push large rocks onto the creature, heavily injuring it. Doug travels twenty kilometers to the boat dock where they arrived, finds his team’s empty camper and while there witnesses an alien invasion on television. The creature returns, hurt and pissed off, but Doug uses the boat’s propeller to cut open the creature’s abdomen, finally killing it. Doug makes his way back to the mainland to save his wife and child as hundreds of ships slowly enter the atmosphere above.
The cat and mouse game Man Vs. presents is really fun and suspenseful, taking the atypical Bear Grylls adventure and turning it into a paranoid nightmare. Chris Diamantopoulos (say that five times fast) is mesmerizing to watch during the first hour as it really felt like I was watching a survivalist show and when things go horribly wrong, Chris is believably frightened. There are great moments where Doug’s fear and frustrations are portrayed perfectly for a situation so disturbing, especially when he comes across the chessboard he normally brings along to play against himself, only to find the pieces moved against him. The sudden realization that someone’s violated his space is evident on Doug’s face, making the scene incredibly tense.
Man Vs. cleverly uses the cameras that Doug brings along for his five days alone for the show to great effect, capturing Doug’s journey from many angles. There isn’t anything fancy to speak of as the cameras are all stationary; however, this makes some of the scenes more suspenseful as the camera lingers on certain shots rather doing heavy shaky cam or quick cuts. The film is edited quite well, with no major complaints from me as everything was easy to follow and always in-frame.
The best thing this film did for about an hour of its ninety minute runtime was never show the creature. You get moments where something’s pushing the cameras over or something quickly runs past Doug but you never get a full glimpse of the alien and the film’s better for it as the last twenty minutes contain terrible CGI work, which is such a shame as it completely undermines what I thought was a good character driven story and a Predator homage, and instead turns it into a Predator rip-off. The creature design is incredibly lacking, stealing so much from the Predator, like its vision system and its growl, that it was more offensive than unique and the closeups of the creature’s face are really bad. There’s a heartfelt moment where Doug tells his wife and child that he may not make it to the camera, bawling his eyes out but his resolve to survive for them overpowers that submission as he makes his way to the boat port. This is a great moment that was utterly drowned out by the poor taste in my mouth from the effects, degrading a fist-pumping moment. The creature’s motivations are also left unexplored. It stalks Doug for days, learning from him, but when you find out the creature’s part of a larger alien invasion you question why it was stalking him in the first place when it could have killed him at any moment, especially when it kills his entire crew without a second thought.
Man Vs. is a good movie that deserves better effects and a better third act. The premise is unique, Chris Diamantopoulus is a fun actor to watch, and Doug Woods is an endearing character that kept me invested in his story. If this was a licensed Predator film with practical effects, Man Vs. would have been fantastic.