Man Vs. 2015. Directed by Adam Massey. Screenplay by Thomas Michael.
Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Chloe Bradt, Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson, Sam Kalilieh, Alex Karzis, Constantine Meglis, Drew Nelson, & Kate Ziegler.
Unrated. 87 minutes.
When it comes to found footage, a film can often help itself by using a gimmick. Now, that does not always help. Although, sometimes the sub-genre is at its best when a film not only has a good story but also an interesting gimmick. The Poughkeepsie Tapes used found footage to explore the decades long trail of a demented serial killer. Afflicted tackles the vampire sub-genre within found footage framed by the world globetrotting trip of two lifelong buddies after one is diagnosed with a likely terminal illness. And the good ole Blair Witch Project had pretty much the first big, successful internet campaign mixed with a richly fleshed out fake mythology to propel it forward big time.
Man Vs. uses a premise I’ve long said would make for an interesting ride. With a main character whose job is very Les Stroud-like, and whose television series is quite the direct parallel to Survivorman, Adam Massey’s film is a creepy little flick. Some of the effects, specifically later in the film when we see what is in the woods with the main character, leave a lot to be desired. In fact, part of it is terrible CGI, the other parts equally terrible riff on Predator. But the suspense, the emotional journey of the protagonist, all the tension which builds up towards the conclusion, is every bit worth it. The pay off doesn’t fully cash the cheque this screenplay wrote for us. Still, Man Vs. does an interesting job with its premise, Chris Diamantopoulos carries the dramatic portion of the movie on his shoulders, as well as the fact there is a quiet atmosphere which will certainly give you a creep or two. Don’t expect the conclusion to offer much for what it stacks up going in, but enjoy what there is to find because it’s not all a waste. Though it borders on it.
Doug Woods (Chris Diamantopoulos) hosts a big television series called ‘Man Vs.’ that takes him to remote locations in the forest, where he’s left alone with only a few bare provisions, forced to encounter the wilderness and whatever it brings on his own. He is a TV celebrity, so part of him is bit of a show already. Though, it’s clear he knows his way around. After his brother Terry (Drew Nelson), Bill (Michael Cram), and Angie (Kelly Fanson) leave him at the latest location for the start of their newest season, Doug digs in. He finds food, a couple rabbits running around. He sleeps under the stars, he builds himself a little shelter. Everything is nearly idyllic. At least until something or someone starts messing with Doug.
When he finds his camp in disarray, a strange substance under his makeshift traps, even discovers his one and only Amp energy drink drained, the fact Doug’s not alone really hits home. Even worse when dead animals turn up all over his camp area and a big man-sized trap is left for him.
Can Doug survive this, too? Or is this one episode that’s likely never to air?
What’s interesting start off is how, usually, Doug has a bit of control. Because there’s the satellite phone lifeline. Introducing an eerie science fiction angle effectively puts him out there completely alone. So part of the plot really puts this guy, this survivalist, to an actual test. Also, like Les Stroud and his thoughts on the possibility of a sasquatch existing, Doug is a rational guy who spends a lot of time out in the wilderness, he sees a lot, hears so much, and that brings a degree of common sense-style knowledge – when he begins to question what exactly’s happening in those woods, there is an element of pure fear and doubt that works its way into the viewer, similar to how it does Doug himself. When people who are normally so grounded and rational minded find themselves questioning the presence of something ‘other’, it is much more of a shock than someone whose beliefs are fluid.
Actor Chris Diamantopoulos has a massive job to do with shouldering the weight of this film’s drama. If he weren’t as charismatic, the whole thing would’ve suffered much more. Instead, he gives us a very likeable Stroud-type guy. He is real, he’s got a family at home, his friends and the relationships with those who do the show, and so on. The writing helps, obviously, but it’s Diamantopoulos whose got to face the camera head on and be the only one onscreen for the better part of its entire 87-minute runtime. I’ve seen him in a number of things, most notably his delightfully unsettling turn on Hannibal, though, he is at his best here. Watching his Doug switch from pissed off and upset to putting a face on for the camera and his TV show, it is impressive at times. He gives us a view into what the life of a famous survivalist might be like, of course alongside a sci-fi situation that no survivalist would ever want to be in. His likeability and natural, relaxed attitude as the only person on camera really does well to help the screenplay feel organic.
I really feel the last 15 minutes or so does the entire film a terrible injustice. If they’d decided on another way out, Man Vs. could easily have come out on top as a great little found footage effort. Instead we’re given half baked nonsense, too many additions to know what to do with, and more of the brutally CGI’d creature in the woods. I’m convinced had they went without including direct looks at their creature, or maybe completely went with it unseen, the whole story would’ve came off better. Without ruining anything, Doug ends up at a camp and sees something there on a television set which shocks him to the core. It should come off as a moment of impact. Rather, it’s more of an eye roll scene that made me want to fast forward completely through the remaining few minutes.
This is a 2-star film. A lot of wasted potential. Diamantopoulos is the best part about this found footage sci-fi-like thriller. If not for him, there’d be very little to enjoy. The suspenseful scenes and all the tense plot development is interesting. To a point. With nothing to justify all its slow meandering towards a lackluster conclusion, Man Vs. is barely mediocre, and ultimately mostly a huge disappointment.