If you go down to the woods today be sure to watch out for a bloody great big grizzly bear. His name is Bart. He’s really mad and shouts a lot. And he’s hungry. He doesn’t like humans much at all – other than the way they taste. Aggrieved at the deforestation of his natural habitat and the illegal poaching of his extended family, ol’ Bart starts taking names. Did I mention he was hungry? Still want to go out for that hike? Consider yourselves warned.
Canadian filmmaker David Hackl – who worked the production design and directed one instalments of the Saw series – replaces dungeons with great expanses of the Alaskan (in actuality British Columbian) wilderness, stepping behind the camera in this man vs. beast, thrill-a-minute action adventure chase. Well used to hacking off limbs left, right and centre, he also throws in a generous dose of brotherly reconciliation and redemption and in the loosest terms denounces human kind’s ill treatment of all creatures great and small.
Rowan (James Marsden) arrives back to the sleepy logging town of Rowley after a 7-year stretch for killing a man. He’s there, he tells estranged do-gooding, hunter-turned-environmentalist and police deputy brother, Beckett (Thomas Jane), to pay his respects to a father who saw “the maze” as his domain. With the strong whiff of an ulterior motive, Rowan sets off into the forest. Happening upon his brother’s deaf wife, Michelle (Piper Perabo), he saves her from a bear attack from you know who. Bart’s been busy elsewhere, sending the police into a furore. Bear tracking and killing machine Douglas (Billy Bob Thornton) is drafted in by Sheriff Sully (John Glenn) before things get any more out of hand.
The accomplished cast, none of whom are able to shoot a bear the size of a house from thirty yards, then spend the best part of an hour scared sh*tless as the food chain flips on its head. Whilst the CGI might be decidedly dodgy at times, the film has enough gore to make you squirm in your chair (Thornton’s face after a slap from Bart is something to behold) but isn’t overly gratuitous. For the same reasons as Jaws had folks afraid to go back in the water, Hackl’s film will set pulses racing and minds questioning that camping trip you’d planned.
The script, ironically, isn’t anything to write home about. Guy Moshe and J. R. Reher’s screenplay has a few howlers, the peak of which is Billy Bob Thornton saying “You start messing with evil, you open up the door to the devil.” In fairness to the veteran actor he seems to delight in hamming up his role and the majority of the woeful one-liners are his. Piper Perabo’s largely silent and signed performance is the best of the lot, benefiting from avoiding the script entirely. Her inability to hear the bear’s thunderous growls approaching generates several moments of real tension.
It’s safe to say that Into the Grizzly Maze won’t be winning any Oscars come February but for a 90 minute thrill ride that will have you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t take too much thought it’s worth a watch.