When pretentious photographer Brooking and his ensemble of two smoking hot models, one being his girlfriend, and his burdened assistant travel to Alaska for a shoot, they think the worst scenario to happen is possibly frost bite or death by boredom. Whilst staying with the sniper-skilled, not-so-friendly local lodge owner Nate and his native accomplices, the group are teased about a possessed bear named Maneater that roams the woods. As the thrill of the joke wares off, it’s not long until they all realise there might suddenly be some truth in that tale…
Maneater or Unatural, also previously known as The Grizzly Maze, is a well-thought out attempt at the b-movie creature feature genre, however it does prove that balancing the elements just right for that beloved horror niche is something not easily attainable. Creature features are an iconic mark of the horror style, therefore when it’s done, it either needs to be one of those so-bad-it’s-good films or it just needs to be incredible.
The cinematography begins very beautifully, although that’s not hard to achieve when you’re shooting planes of pristine snow, but devolves throughout the film into some really dark and obscured viewpoints letting down the aesthetics. Characters come and go exceptionally quick in this film and what really disappoints is that there are so many opportunities for character development, along with some well-timed humorous comments, yet this is completely overlooked and replaced with meaningless dialogue about basically, nothing.
Something I always give praise to in indie films is the use of practical and SFX rather than using atrocious CGI, although it you don’t ascertain the skills to create the most outstanding looking monster then the film will fundamentally fail. The hellion needs to become the realistic epitome of Hell on Earth, not zoo plushie gone horrifically wrong. That’s harsh and there’s definitely more credit that should be given to the efforts that have gone into this, although it seems like the budget could have been used more effectively, especially in this area.
It seems like you’re on to a winner when Ray Wise opens the film, eerily conjuring up the image of genetically modified animals clawing their way back into the desolate wilderness, but it seems this was mere face dropping as his appearance is short lived. Sherilynn Fenn, who you’ll immediately recognise as Audrey from Twin Peaks, defines the role of devious and charming as her character causes catastrophe only to manipulate the whole scenario into looking like pure accident, with her being a hunted victim.
“What are we without our wildlife?” Alive. After watching Maneater, it’s quite clear that when you genetically modify one of the most dangerous animals in the world, you’re only going to end up dead by keeping it alive. Without that particular kind of wildlife, most of the characters would still be here. There may have been some instances where the polar bear didn’t exactly cause the lengthy and painful passing away, but when someone steps backwards into a bear trap whilst being maliciously stalked by a bloodthirsty furry it’s hard not to think hilariously ironic that is.
The feat of imagining and building a creature feature that is modern by introducing new ways that a natural animal can become a menacing and unstoppable force will never be straightforward and always culminates in scientists fucking around with a gene pool that they shouldn’t. Maneater is the type of film you can meander through without having to use your brain too much or squirm at any intensely brutal gore scenes, leaving it in the blank canvas of undistinguished limbo – ultimately the last category you’d ever want a b-move to fall into.
Words: Zoë Rose Smith (@ZoeRoseSmitz)