Whether or not Bigfoot actually exists is a debate for the ages. One thing that isn’t debatable is that Bigfoot movies are in the midst of a renaissance the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Bigfoot movie boom of the 1970s. Bob Gray’s Bigfoot is one of about five that I know of awaiting release, and unlike the atrocious Sasquatch Hunters that came out this past Spring this rampaging Bigfoot tale is an enjoyable throwback creature feature that features enough positives to overcome its various negatives.
Ex-military and recent divorcee Jack Sullivan returns to his hometown of Mentor, Ohio with his 9-year old tomboy daughter Charlie looking to start life fresh. Mentor has been plagued by a series of unexplained animal mutilations, a constant source of frustration for Jack’s old friend and town sheriff Bob Perkins, as well as for the fetching blonde park ranger that Jack takes a liking too much to Charlie’s chagrin. The popular theory is that a bear has wandered into Mentor’s spacious woods and marshlands, but old man George insists its Bigfoot. Of course, everyone thinks George is just a crazy old man prone to telling tall tales, but then people begin turning up dead, all killed in the same animalistic fashion and missing the same vital organs (Sasquatch really loves liver). After seeing a shadowy hulking humanoid figure in the fog, Jack too becomes a believer and sets out to help Bob investigate while trying to convince him that the legendary monster is indeed behind the murders.
As you can tell from that plot synopsis, Bigfoot won’t win any awards for originality. Indeed, the plot is rather formulaic even to the point of featuring the dreaded fake scare where a cat jumps out of the shadows. But what Bigfoot lacks in originality it makes up for with likeability. Despite its drawbacks, and believe me there are quite a few, I found myself enjoying the film even when it stumbled because it just has a hokey charm to it. Like I said, it has the feel of a monster movie from a bygone era.
Bigfoot takes a risk by not following the current Sci-Fi Channel original movie formula of having the monster pop up every few minutes just for the sake of appearing on-screen. Instead the plot takes its time to build up; something more b-movie makers should try doing. Animals turns up dead, a birdwatcher is murdered, a little league baseball player disappears at the edge of the woods practically in front of everyone in the stands, etc. Unfortunately, and it’s definitely my biggest complaint about the film, after spending the first hour taking its time setting everything up and developing the characters, the whole film abruptly shifts gears and goes into fast forward during the third act. Case in point, Jack ends up sitting down with a map of the area, marks the locations of the various Bigfoot attacks, and pinpoints the exact location as to where he’ll be able to find the monster, goes there, and, sure enough, Bigfoot’s there. It’s too quick, too easy, and too convenient, and given what this particular location turns out to be you can’t help but wonder how come nobody else had come across the beast. Or for that matter how this large lumbering humanoid can sneak in and out of town sight unseen?
That also leads to another mistake first time filmmaker Gray makes. The exact motivations as to why this particular Bigfoot creature has suddenly begun exiting the woods and murdering civilians is never adequately explained. The synopsis on the back of the screener box states that deforestation and urban development has lead to this but these motivations are barely hinted at in the movie itself. It comes across as if Bigfoot has always been a killer and he’s just decided to not be shy about adding humans to the menu.
Time the pacing completely grinds to a halt is an overly long sequence involving the clichéd gang of dimwitted redneck hunters that form a lynch mob and head out into the marsh to kill what they believe to be a bear. You can pretty much guess how this plays out, and the movie spends too many minutes following their barely amusing antics leading up to the inevitable. However, I’m willing to overlook this misstep since Gray wisely keeps the Jack-pretty female park ranger romance a minor subplot that isn’t dwelled upon too much. How many other movies would have put the weak romantic subplot into the foreground and wasted considerable time dwelling on it?
All quibbles aside, I still can’t deny that the film has a likeable quality due primarily to the characters and their interactions with one another. A few days back I reviewed another low budget monster movie called They Feed which was also a formulaic throwback monster movie except I really chastised it for giving us boring characters with relationships you don’t give a damn about. It was after sitting through that film that I came to realize just how much better the characterizations were in this film. Well, not quite all of them.
At first I thought this Todd Cox guy was just playing the lead role of Jack as the quiet, low key type, which he is up to a point. In the scenes that require him to be nothing more than a mild-mannered everyman the acting is perfectly acceptable, but as the film progresses it becomes apparent that his performance is so wooden I’d be surprised to find out he wasn’t infected with termites. Telling a joke, romancing a girl, scolding a child, mourning a loss, encountering Bigfoot; it all comes out in exactly the same flat monotone voice and it really pales in comparison to the rest of the cast. There may not be any future Oscar winners here but they do manage to breathe life into their roles.
Take for example his best friend Bob, played by writer/director/producer Bob Gray. I couldn’t help but to think that this character should really have been the hero of the film. Bob (the character) is a likeable lug, the sort of everyday good guy you wouldn’t mind hanging out and having a beer with. How can you not like a guy that seemingly has everyone he knows in town in on a scheme to tell his wife that she looks thin knowing that it really turns her on and he’ll get more sex out of it? Bob may not look like your typical movie hero but that really makes him all the more ideal for this particular scenario, certainly more so than the blank slate that is Jack. And when Bob does finally encounter the title monster he actually reacts like someone that’s come face-to-face with the impossible.
Another standout is Brooke Beckwith who plays Jack’s young daughter Charlie. This young lady is a surprisingly good child actor; too bad she really isn’t given much to do other than just be adorably precocious. I was at least hoping there would be a scene where she asked, "Daddy, why can’t you speak up?"
Also deserving of praise is Van Jackson’s turn as town crackpot George. The film’s best scene revolves around him in the town pub recounting a tale about an incident involving a "wild man" in the Mentor marshlands back during the Depression that explains why he is thoroughly convinced of the existence of Bigfoot to this day. It’s a compelling scene.
Back in my interview with Bob Gray conducted earlier this year, one thing he promised was that there would not be any CGI in his film and he’s a man of his word. The Bigfoot creature is 100% man-in-a-suit and it’s an interesting take on the famous cryptid. With its aged facial features and often raggedy hair, Gray’s Bigfoot creature looks like an old grumpy grandpa Bigfoot, certainly not something you’d want to piss off. My only complaint is that the guy in the suit really needed to work on his Bigfoot run. The way it charges at Jack during the finale looks a bit too silly, almost as if the monster is power jogging into battle.
Despite being shot on digital and featuring a healthy dose of gore, Bigfoot feels like it would fit right in had it been made back in the 1970s when Bigfoot flicks were last in abundance. It’s a small film that’s far from perfect but has the homespun feel of an old fashioned regional production, the kind that once occupied space on drive-in movie screens and is looked back upon nostalgically today. Don’t go in expecting to be blown away because you won’t but if you’re a fan of monster movies, Bigfoot films especially, you’ll likely come away smiling.