24th Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘The Expedition’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Daniel Caren, Sarah Mac, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Neil Newbon, Emma Lillie Lees, Simon Burbage, Dolores Reynals, Ross O’Hennessey, Ernesto Cantu, Angela Peters | Written by Adam Spinks, Ben Loyd-Holmes | Directed by Adam Spinks

Expedition-cast

Yet again the cheap, occasionally effective but utterly done to death format of the found footage film finds its way onto our screens once more. Only this time, there’s dinosaurs. It’s The T-Rex Project, or Mesozoic Activity, if you will.

We’re expected to believe we’re being presented with footage from a documentary team recording some natural historians on locations in the South American rainforest, seeking out new species. Brash cameraman James (Daniel Caren) accompanies sceptical presenter Michelle (Sarah Mac) on The Expedition. The aloof but esteemed Professor Howson (Ben Loyd-Holmes, who also co-writes with director Adam Spinks) is their guide and a couple of other scientists and explorer/adventurer types flesh out the cast. Off they go into the jungle, where sure enough, their 4×4 breaks down and they’re forced to continue their journey on foot, whereupon they encounter some beasts hitherto thought to be extinct, with unfortunate consequences.

The single biggest problem with the film is you simply can’t really do dinosaurs on the cheap. I am a big advocate for practical effects and it’s good to see them used in The Expedition but the quality just isn’t good enough. If we’re watching a T-rex sniffing our heroes at close quarters, you want to be catching your breath out of tension, not mirth at what is clearly a decent, but unconvincing puppet. The dinosaurs feature very sparingly, which is fair enough on what is apparently a tight budget but in a film such as this, tension needs to be built elsewhere. Unfortunately, not much really happens prior the creature’s introduction around the hour mark. Michelle and James bicker (a lot), have an ultimately inconsequential encounter with a logging company and do a lot of tramping through jungle that as my flatmate observed looked suspiciously like the New Forest. There’s an okay scene in a tent in the middle of the night with unknown entities poking around outside, but Willow Creek did this a lot better at FrightFest last year.

Being on a budget is fine, but you at least need a decent script or good characters to sustain a film – The Expedition doesn’t have enough to offer in either category. James is ridiculously annoying, Michelle does little more than be exasperated, the professor is bluntly unlikeable and the rest of the team are either ridiculous caricatures, jerks or anonymous. The script is also weak with some ungainly and simplistic postulating on the nature of faith and science and some generally unconvincing exchanges elsewhere.

It’s a shame, but I honestly can’t think of anything to really recommend about it. I really wanted to like it; as I said to Phil prior to seeing it, I will watch anything with dinosaurs in it because dinosaurs are brilliant. Perhaps The Expedition‘s biggest crime is making dinosaurs look rubbish. This is highlighted as the film has the cojones to directly reference the daddy of all dinosaur films, Jurassic Park, both through a cheeky dialogue lift and in an ‘if we don’t move, it can’t see us’ moment. It’s nice to acknowledge the influence, but it’s like a pub rock band playing ‘Black Dog’; you’ll listen to it, but you’d rather be watching the real thing. Kids film though it is, Jurassic Park even manages to be scarier than The Expedition, which for a FrightFest film, is a bit of a kick in the teeth.

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