When Max Carr (Andrew Joseph Montgomery) gets out of prison after serving a year for drunken vehicular idiocy, his wife Ashley (Casey Gagliardi) picks him up at the gate to drive him home to their young son – but things between them are up and down, with inept sex and a running joke (paid off much later) about Max learning to make a shiv, plus an argument when Max irritates Ashley by drinking beer in the car on a road through the woods. A badly-wounded guy blunders into their car, and something big and hairy pelts them with stones – which leads to a dip in a lake, an uncomfortable night in the woods and an even more uncomfortable hook-up with a party of mocking, needling, possibly rapey redneck hunters led by grizzled B.D. (Marshal Hilton). Soon, the monster in the woods – Oh-Mah, a variety of Native American Bigfoot – is playing Predator with the gang, ripping off limbs and heads after the manner of the sasquatch from the video nasty Night of the Demon but also, in a new wrinkle for cryptid cinema, taking out the white invaders of his territory with arrows, spears and flint axes. Meanwhile, the Sheriff (veteran Eloy Casados, in his final role) reconnects with his Navajo roots to go after the creature, and the Whispering Woman (Shannon Malone), a dead ringer for EC Comics’ Old Witch, loiters ominously on the edge of the story.
Debuting writer-director Patrick Magee has a background in practical effects, and gives this cryptid horror movie a rough-hewn, squelchy, bosky physical feel that reinvigorates a tired sub-genre. This monster is a bipedal ape, with a mandrill-like face, but also camouflages himself with a bark mask and armour, and turns out not to be the simple woodland creature found in most Patterson-Gimlin derivatives, though he does have the hulking sexual interest in abducted women featured in Willow Creek. Magee takes some gruesome cues from S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, with extremes of body-mangling unseen since the heyday of Fangoria magazine in the ‘80s, including a nasty new variation on the jaws-wrenched apart gambit and an essay in the currently-fashionable head-squishing stomp that naturally shows how having big feet can be a formidable weapon (a nice shot of a big footprint filling up with water underlines this physical peculiarity). It takes the time to establish the threat of the woods, and builds up to the full reveal of the monster by having it shift in the background of shots – revealing how well it can blend in with the trees.
The personal story is well-played and decently-written, with credible but economically sketched tension between the good-looking couple who will go through hell in the woods … and a decent stretch of unease as Max and Ashley are forced against their sensible instincts to ask for help from a band of tittering, leering slobs who are probably more likely to rape and kill them than help them find the road and get to the Sheriff. It runs slightly long at 108 minutes, piling on the agonies – there’s an inevitable man-trap that snaps at the worst possible moment – until a muddy, grim struggle between the prison-toughened Max and a wounded but still dangerous Oh-Mah. NB: not to be confused with the 1988 Bo Svenson mad baboon movie or the 1994 video game of the same title.