2015 / Director. David Hackl.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Director David Hackl (SAW V) is clearly a passionate genre fan. He would have to be to tempt something like INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE. Very few directors have made creature features about bears and succeeded. The film does have many shortcomings and whether or not it does succeed will be a matter of opinion but it is certainly one of the most serious attempts that I've seen in a long time.
Most genre fans will cast their mind back to the 1976 film GRIZZLY when they read the synopsis for INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE and while the JAWS-inspired plot does resemble that '76 film quite closely, it is not a remake. A rogue grizzly bear is reeking havoc in the Alaska wilderness and two estranged brothers trek into the 'Grizzly Maze' to find and rescue people who are unaccounted for. The Grizzly Maze is a dense and notorious valley where even bears become disoriented. With a medic and conservationist by their side and a persistent expert shadowing their movements, the brothers find themselves as the hunted and must outwit or outrun the beast before it tears them all to shreds.
The premise is classic survival creature feature and director David Heckl exploits all of the expected tropes of the genre. What sets it apart from other bear-related movies is the use of location and the quality of the cinematography. This is a pristine-looking film and a lot of attention has been placed in capturing the cold density of the Alaskan environment (although it was filmed in British Columbia). The initial premise was inspired by Timothy Treadwell, whose exploits and death were documented by Werner Herzog in the documentary GRIZZLY MAN. Treadwell's own diary entries recalled a rogue bear that terrified him so much that he named it "Red Machine", which was this film's original working title (still used for the European release). Also adding extra resonance to the film is the impressive cast with Thomas Jane and James Marsden leading an ensemble, which includes Billy Bob Thornton, Scott Glenn, Piper Perabo and Michaela McManus. All give strong performances and feel as though they are comfortable living off such a rugged and formidable land.
The film's weakness lies within its special effects. Hackl has attempted to shoot the attack scenes with ferocity, however, it feels as though he bit off more than he could chew. While he has succeeded in blending a gory horror quality to the violence, the film slips when it comes to the point of contact. Insert shots of the bear isolated from the actors are too obvious and the attacks are comprised of split second shots mashed together. I can only imagine how difficult and problematic filming with a bear would be, but that is the film they chose to make and such pivotal moments could have been augmented with more care. There are also some truly disappointing CGI moments in the final act, which might be the breaking point for some viewers.
With these flaws aside, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is an atmospheric and entertaining creature feature. I feel that the attack scenes are sporadic enough that their shortcomings can be overlooked and I was able to focus more on the atmospheric appeal and the nicely handled balance of action with horror. The good pacing also helps drive it home. It is a noble entry into the creature-feature genre and is likely to be a divisive film amongst audiences. Generous viewers who are able to see what David Hackl was trying to do should get more out of it than others. It's good fun.