Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Daniel Robbins
Cast: Ben Getz, Kyle Kirkpatrick, Zack Weiner
Uncaged is a frustrating film. The picture has every piece of the foundation required to build a brilliant genre film, but the insistence on layering the story with needless and irrelevant subplots and characters really kills the momentum established early in the film. It all results in a missed opportunity that ultimately will not hinder the professional growth and acceleration of co-writer/director Daniel Robbins, though it won’t thrust him into the limelight, either. That’s a very direct result of trying to do too much with something that simply doesn’t require it.
The story follows a trio of friends (Jack, Turner and Brandon) who head out to a cabin in a rural location to get away from the city. Relax, that’s kind of the idea. The flick doesn’t travel down the typical cabin in the woods path, instead opting to blend a coming of age approach with a classic werewolf narrative. So far, so good. While out at the cabin, Jack, the undeclared leader of the group, and clearly most mature of the three, wakes one morning naked, outside, far distanced from the cabin. He’s confused, wondering how in the world he ended up near a dumpster when he crashed on a comfy bed just the night before. So, curious if it will happen again, he straps a GoPro to his melon and passes out on night two. Again he wakes in foreign territory the following morning, but this time he’s got video to reference. What he sees scares the hell out of him, as it appears he’s become some form of a beast. Even worse, he rips a man to shreds while in this strange state. Jack’s not stupid, he’s got an idea of what’s happening immediately. He fears he is – somehow – transforming into a werewolf, stalking humans under light of the moon. Eventually he shares this knowledge, which leads to more investigation and an interesting revelation that we’re not going to share with you, in order to, you know – not spoil the film.
If the story was that bare, we’d have a homerun micro-film. Instead, the decision is made to introduce numerous unnecessary characters, which could have worked to enhance the story, if it weren’t for the strange decision to gift every outside player a full-on origin story. Why the hell do we need to know the life story of a victim’s girlfriend? Why do we need to know her husband (yep, she’s a filthy cheater) and his angry side? And where did Turner’s girlfriend come from? Better yet, why does she need to be here? What does she do for the film? Outside of padding a murder ledger, nothing, sadly. These awkward subplots completely deflate the proverbial balloon, as the momentum of the story slows to a crawl so that we can get to know people we don’t need to know. And trust this, these side-story explorations really feel obstinate and out of place. They’re just aggravating filler for a film that didn’t need any filler. Our three main characters are all polarizing enough to carry the story. They’re funny (the humor in the flick is mighty successful), they’re flawed… they’re interesting and likable. They’re everything we want from fictional characters. The bit players are not. They do nothing but frustrate the viewer, and water down a fine piece.
In order to help you understand what’s really happening here, and the impact of these subplots, I’ll break it down in a manner that just about anyone can relate to: Imagine driving to your friend’s place, but stopping to take five wrong turns, even though you know perfectly well where you’re going. You’re probably going to look back and say, damn I just wasted an extra 15 minutes for no good reason. That’s what all the silly filler in Uncaged does for us. It makes us feel as though we’re wasting time on pointless crap. But it didn’t have to be that way.
Why Robbins and co-scribe Mark Rapaport would attempt to sabotage their own project is beyond me. Yet that’s what they do. My only thought is that these guys were fighting to fill a feature length film’s dimensions. The standard motion picture runs about 90 minutes. But if you’ve got a film that clocks in at 70 minutes, you could find yourself having trouble pushing your picture as a feature length production. Uncaged serves as a reminder that sometimes shorter (and less) is better.
I can’t praise the cast enough. Not a single one of these youngsters is genuinely experienced, and it doesn’t seem as though any of them are seasoned in the art of fronting a film. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re great. Ben Getz (Jack) juggles emotions very well, and he commands some sympathy. Kyle Kirkpatrick (Turner) is full of charisma and presence. Zack Weiner (Brandon) is a joker to the core, and he’s got zingers to fling about freely. All three young thespians truly do impress, performing as true troupers with experience beyond their actual years.
But the cast isn’t the only shining star in this little sky. Robbins and Rapaport write strong dialogue and understand the bases that must be covered to craft an engaging piece of work. There’s a transformation sequence that places impressive practical effects under the spotlight. The werewolf design, something of a minimalized look, also stimulates the mind. There are a number of strong elements to respect here, and that would take to the forefront of our minds if not for those damn subplots that operate as constant distractions.
My wife summed this one up without realizing she’d done so.
About a half hour into the picture she passed (cut her some slack, we’ve got three kids) out. After a solid 20-30 minute nap she awoke, during a scene in which we see the story’s three focal players sitting down for dinner with a few of the characters that had no place eating up valuable screen time. She stared at the television, confusion sliding across her visage. “Is this a different movie,” she asked me. “How did the werewolf movie end?” In that moment I understood that I wasn’t the only one destined to find the bit players and twists and turns of the film distracting. The woman saw so many new faces on the screen she wasn’t even certain she was watching the same film.
I’m a little bummed about this one. Finding a mirco-pic that has the potential to wrangle a solid four-star rating isn’t common. Uncaged definitely has that potential, but the (now harped on) misfires take a lot of the wind from these sails. I’m curious to see where this lot heads from here, and I’ve been a little unforgiving for that very reason. This is a legitimately talented bunch, and I’d love to see them all develop as they clearly can. But in order to do that, it’s important to listen to the voice of the viewer. We’re not all filmmakers, but deep down most of us know a great film when we see one. Uncaged was damn close to being that great film and a few adjustments will see these prospects right a wronged ship and thrive in a business in which they obviously belong.