03rd Jun2015

Sci-Fi London 2015: ‘Man Vs.’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Chris Diamantopoulos, Michael Cram, Drew Nelson, Alex Karzis, Kelly Fanson, Sam Kalilieh, Kate Ziegler, Constantine Meglis, Chloe Bradt | Written by Adam Massey, Thomas Michael | Directed by Adam Massey

Man-vs

Doug Woods may be a semi-successful media presenter and outdoorsman (at least on the web) but he’s hardly Bear Grylls in real life. He’s barely even a decent family man, sneaking out on his wife and daughter to go film his latest episode, which is why he and his crew are making a last-ditch attempt at a TV pitch by dropping him in the wilds of Northern Ontario for five days with little except his wits and some snazzy camera equipment to keep him company.

Or so he thinks, at least. Over the course of the next few days, strange things start to happen in the woods: chess pieces are moved on Doug’s board while he’s off setting rabbit traps; his irreplaceable satellite phone – which of course doesn’t work when he calls for help – goes missing; and there appear to be signs of intelligent  life in the odd arrangements of twigs and person-sized traps that populate the protagonist’s surroundings.

To say more would spoil the plot, but the remainder of Man Vs. sees Doug tortured (both psychologically and physically) to degrees that will please fans who believe that, like Ash from The Evil Dead, movie characters ought to be put through their paces. Most of the film is carried by Doug talking to the camera – and eventually himself – and actor Chris Diamantopoulos does a commendable job of keeping is interested, despite the occasional forced exposition (“I didn’t set that up!” Doug whispers upon seeing his chess board displayed on returning to camp).

He does so well, in fact, that would have happily had the story begin with him getting dumped in the woods and done without the first, slightly tedious 20 minutes of set-up with his family and crew which doesn’t pay off in any kind of emotionally satisfying way. In fact, I probably would have sympathised with the lead a whole lot more if his wife and daughter weren’t introduced in a way that made them feel completely tokenistic (much like the female member in Doug’s crew, a part of zero consequence) and Doug something of an asshole. It’s an odd story choice, and not one I can easily fathom the reasoning for.

It’s rare that I want even less from a 90-minute movie than there already is but I couldn’t help but think of Willow Creek, which clocks in around 70 minutes, doesn’t have any unnecessary baggage and definitely doesn’t outstay its welcome. Man Vs., on the other hand, feels like it could have ended in a number of different but equally satisfying places, yet it avoids becoming tiresome by keeping the pace up to a pleasingly frantic degree as the action rises. Some of the climactic effects could have benefited from a higher budget, but director Adam Massey and his crew still manage to do a lot with a little, using stylish cinematography and a winning lead performance to make what could easily have been a knockoff found-footage horror movie a polished, highly enjoyable homage to both ’80s sci-fi and the uneviable lot of survival TV stars.

Man Vs. is playing at Sci-Fi London Film Festival, which runs until 7th June. Click here for the full programme of screenings and events.

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