Written by: Daniel Hadley
Director: Adam Massey
Cast: Chris Diamantopoulos
Survival shows have grown in popularity ever since Bear Grylls introduced us to his piss drinking antics along with his predilection for life threatening endurance tests, all while chowing down bugs and whatever small animals are unlucky enough to cross his path. Les Stroud takes it one step further by venturing out into some of the most inhospitable wilderness’s one could imagine without even the aid of a camera crew. Now to most people that would spell death, but Stroud makes it look almost easy, but what if on one of these excursions he wasn’t as alone as he once thought?
Host of the hit survival show Man Vs., Doug Woods is an experienced survivalist. Like Les Stroud he ventures alone into the wilderness to film himself surviving for a week with no food and a few simple survival tools. After venturing out into the remote woods, Doug settles in for an uncomfortable night’s sleep in a leaky shelter he threw together to protect himself from the rain. After drifting off he’s woken by a thunderous crashing sound off in the distance, then over the next couple of days he finds that things aren’t quite right around his campsite. The food he scrounged up goes missing and his equipment has been tampered with. Now the idea of being alone out in the woods miles from anywhere is scary enough, but when you add in the element of an unknown stalker you’re moving closer to nightmare territory.
So you have an experienced survivalist facing off against and unknown assailant deep in woods miles from any form of civilization. Now if I were put in such a position I’d have probably died of dehydration before the stalk and kill scenario even began to play out, and if by some miracle I made it that far I’d be too weak from hunger and lack of sleep to put up much of a fight. I can imagine my stomach growling with hunger as I sit in the rain, cold and alone. I’d just scream into the overgrowth “just fucking kill me already” or something to that affect. But unlike me, Doug has many skills he can fall back on in a time of crisis.
What works best about Man Vs. is the fear of the unknown. The best parts of the movie come early on when Doug first becomes aware that he is not alone. His curiosity leading to terror as things go from bad to worse to terrifying; one scene in particular where Doug stumbles across a man sized rabbit trap is very well done. During these scenes my expectations peaked as I thought I had stumbled upon something really special, which made it all the more painful when the truth is finally revealed and the movie takes a drastic shift in tone during the final act. And to be honest it’s not that the final act is bad, it’s more that I had let my expectation run a little wild as the earlier portions of the movie had been so well done.
To keep things spoiler free, I’ll just say this: as I was watching the movie I, like anyone would be, was making guesses as to what it was that was putting Doug through one harrowing experience after another. Unfortunately my stupidest guess turned out to be correct. When the revelation came I remember raising my eyebrows and muttering under my breath “seriously” and again it’s not outright terrible, it just didn’t suit the tone the movie had established. It didn’t out right ruin the movie, either, and I think I’d probably appreciate it more on a second viewing knowing what I know now.
The negatives unfortunately don’t stop there, as when the third act rolls around it brings with it some pretty bad CGI. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from top end. The choice to use low grade CGI is pretty baffling as what they are used for (still trying to be spoiler free) could have easily been achieved practically and they’d have looked a hundred times better as a result.
Chris Diamantopoulos is great as Doug, perfectly conveying his fear and confusion as everything goes to hell around him, making the switch from likable and charming reality TV host to desperate survivor with ease. With a lesser actor Man Vs. would have fallen apart from the get go. But luckily Chris Diamantopoulos carries the movie with little effort.
If the final act had lived up to the expectation I had built up during the first half, this would have been a five out five. Unfortunately the jarring revelation of the third act and the low grade CGI that comes along with it drop Man Vs. down to an average rating.
If you want to watch a movie about a guy going through hell in the wilderness then check this one out. It starts out great and although it takes a sharp dip in quality before the end I still think it’s worth at least one viewing.