Actors: James Marsden, Billy Bob Thorton, Thomas Jane
Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Subtitles: English, French
Region: Region 1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: August 4, 2015
Run Time: 90 minutes
Throw in a few additional scenes of unnecessary objectification of women with cheaper CGI bear attacks and this is exactly the type of low budget fare you might expect to find on the same shelf as many Asylum productions or Syfy Channel releases. The screenplay lacks any originality and an over-use of stock footage makes it clear that the actors were never anywhere near live bears, and yet Into the Grizzly Maze still manages to stand above the rest thanks to a surprisingly stacked cast. Despite the limited material, this cast keeps a silly plot and amateur filmmaking far more entertaining than it deserves, proving why a professional actor is an invaluable commodity. This is true even in the films that are typically more interested in the carnage of its characters than their believability. I’m not exactly certain how it happened that this movie got such an undeservingly seasoned cast, but it ends up being the only saving grace in the filmmaking process.
Into the Grizzly Maze is an awful title for a simple premise involving a killer bear. This is essentially a throwback to many eco-friendly horror films from the 1970s and beyond; Jaws in the woods, if you will. When a massive bear in the Alaskan wilderness near a small town gets the taste of human blood, it turns into a deadly killing machine that must be stopped. The town’s sheriff, Beckett (Thomas Jane) enters the woods to find his deaf ecologist wife (Piper Parabo), and coincidentally runs into his ex-convict brother, Rowan (James Marsden). Both have experience with the wilderness, a large portion of which was owned by their departed father, and their joint effort may be the only chance for survival against the bloodthirsty beast.
Rowan enters the woods to find an old friend named Douglass (Billy Bob Thornton), despite his reputation for being a poacher. This puts him at odds with Beckett and his wife, but Douglass’ experience as a hunter may be a valuable asset against the rogue bear. In many other films from this genre, these scenes of character development would be merely filler between bear attacks, but this dedicated cast makes them the glue that holds everything together. Sadly, it is the sequences with the bear which don’t quite make the grade.
I understand that the biggest difficulty with a movie like this is the filming of an animal, real or otherwise. This has always been the case, and even Jaws had some questionable effects in the attempt to film wildlife attacks without using wildlife. It just happens that the tricks used in Into the Grizzly Maze are a bit more transparent than they need to be for seamless entertainment. Whether it is cross-cutting of actual bear footage with shots of the actors reacting, shoddy CGI, or a hybrid of both in shots that juxtaposes real bear footage over the separately filmed scenes of actors reacting, the filmmaking is rarely competent enough to be convincing. Perhaps the entire budget went to the casting process.
The smartest thing the screenplay does is provide many obstacles for the characters that are secondary to the actual bear attacks. The tough terrain of the wilderness is just as much an enemy to our protagonists as the bear itself, providing the opportunity for suspenseful sequences that don’t involve shoddy CGI and transparent editing techniques. It also places the suspense of the movie in the hands of the cast members, who are all able to elevate this material in ways that it truly doesn’t deserve.
The DVD release provides no special features or answers as to how a film like this got made with this cast
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10