It’s a weird time for movie distribution, as even films with big-name stars like Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro and Christian Bale can find themselves dumped straight to DVD with little fanfare. But it’s a weird time for the movie business in general, and actors need to pay the bills like anyone else. That partly explains how talented performers like Billy Bob Thornton, James Marsden, Thomas Jane and Piper Perabo find themselves in the middle of an unremarkable creature-feature like Into the Grizzly Maze.
The story has two estranged brothers, police officer Beckett (Jane) and ex-convict Rowan (Marsden), put aside their differences to find Beckett’s wife (Perabo), who disappeared while hiking in the woods. Making things more stressful is the fact that an aggressive grizzly bear is stalking them, and sleazy hunter Douglas (Thornton) may be their only hope of making it out of the woods alive.
Into the Grizzly Maze has all the hallmarks of a troubled production. It was shot over three years ago, been delayed numerous times and has gone through several title changes, being called everything from “Red Machineto” to “Endangered”. It does feel like at one time it was intended to go theatrical, but the distributors eventually gave up when they realised it was nothing special.
It’s a shame, because the film has a few things going for it. It looks great, with the camera work and cinematography giving the woods an eerie, foreboding feel. The actors commit gamely, with Thornton in particular carving out a thick slice of ham as the hunter who appears from time to time on a white horse to deliver OTT monologues whilst Marsden gives his cliché ex-con role a lot more depth than it probably deserved.
Jane and Perabo don’t fare as well, with Jane looking like he’d rather be somewhere else and Perabo being wasted on a completely thankless role. Her character is a deaf-mute, so in addition to not having any lines she has such a small impact on the story her part could have been removed from the script entirely with a minor rewrite.
Most of the problems with Into the Grizzly Maze can be aimed at the script. B-grade monster movies don’t need to have spectacular writing to work, but that’s no excuse for something this lazy. The drama and characterisation are straight out of a bad American soap opera, there are some entirely useless subplots and the monster elements are straight faced lifts from Jaws, right down to the climax.
These problems might be easier to overlook if the creature scenes were up to snuff, but the movie botches this too. Despite using a real bear most of the time, which naturally brings a sense of weight and menace, the animal however seems kind of tame in a lot of scenes, so reaction shots of the actors looking terrified as this docile beast approaches are just unintentionally funny. Especially when the overbearing score insists that the viewer should be terrified too.
Scenes of the bear attacking are annoyingly over-edited, usually to hide the shift to animatronic for a few seconds. Then the movie really blows it in the final showdown, when the bear turns full on CGI.
Any threat the animal possessed vanishes in an instant, when it looks like something that would be rejected even from SyFy Channel for being too cheap looking.
This entire final scene has a whiff of reshoot about it, as it jars with what came before, almost as if the producers thought they needed some spectacular showdown to end on.
Into the Grizzly Maze isn’t terrible, and is even watchable in an undemanding late-Friday-night movie kind of way, but it should be a lot better. Nice visuals and a good cast only do so much to overcome such a lame script and underwhelming action scenes.
Into the Grizzly Maze is out on DVD from August 17th