Chicago based Ben and Annie travel to Annie’s small southern hometown in North Carolina over Thanksgiving weekend. Annie reunites with high school friends Paul and Jed, who have stuck with their southern roots and tease Ben for his sheltered city life. Ben discovers more about Annie’s past through her friends such as her and Paul being at one point in time an item in high school, her being a wild party animal, and that she actually believes in Bigfoot. Jed and Paul invite Annie and Ben to a deep woods camping trip where Bigfoot has been believed to be looming about; Ben doesn’t believe in Annie’s Bigfoot obsession, but tags along to keep Paul from purposely undermining their relationship in order too get close to his at one time girlfriend. When the four go deeper into the woods, attempting ddto meet up with a couple of other friends, they soon realize something is wrong and something has been following and toying with them, but is it really Bigfoot?
Finally, a well-made simplistic, yet terrifying story about the legendary Bigfoot that isn’t disgustingly mishandled when interpreted to the big screen. Cautiously optimistic with each Bigfoot inspired film, I’m always to be horribly let down by the sheer lack of monstrous intensity, heartfelt passion, and distinctive effects the big and iconic cryptozoological creature has been displayed over the years, or even decades in fact. I did think the William Dear family-friendly “Harry and the Henderson’s” would be the sole king of the Sasquatchsploitation genre, but here, right before me, under the careful and patient eye of director Dan Riesser is “Stomping Ground.” “Stomping Ground” is one part comedy, one part melodrama, and one part thriller rolled up into a three act film school archetype that gets it’s dirty sasquatch-ian claws into the viewer’s attention from start to finish.
The Riesser and Andrew Genser collaborated script strongly develops the four main characters in Ben, Annie, Paul and Jed. Ben is a complete fish out of water, seeking eagerly to fit into Annie’s southern habitat and be one with it’s rowdy and rugged natives, but can’t seem to grasp, what he considers, the oddball behavior of those living below the northern hemisphere. Annie is a girl with an elusive past, according to Ben, by not letting Ben into who she formerly was, a Bigfoot believing, let-loose party girl with a love for the ourdoors, until old habits start to emerge externally in her return back home. Knowing this about Annie and with a strong attraction to his former fling, Paul seeks to disintegrate Ben and Annie’s city-living relationship, cutting their opposite-attraction bind, and get her back at whatever means possible. Jed opposites life long friend Annie where he lives for the freedom of the sticks while never letting go the cockeyed belief that Bigfoot roams the local woods. John Bobeck as Ben, Jeramy Blackford as Paul, Tarah DeSpain as Annie, and Justin Giddings as Jed deserve a round of applause for believing, and showcasing those beliefs, in their characters because if there wasn’t such a heavy character development in the first two acts of “Stomping Ground,” there might not have been such a desire to give two-shits about any of the characters, placing them in the neutrality column.
Usually with any film about the big, hairy myth, the Bigfoot effects are either jerry-built or heavily CGI dependent that reveal more of a glossy feel aftertaste than a mangy, gritty animalistic and realistic one. Not many effects were used up until when the Bigfoot made an appearance so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and, like I aforementioned, I’m always cautiously optimistic. When Bigfoot made the on screen debut in full visibility, the matted hair, begrimed skin, tall and broad stature, and an effects accomplished atrocious face was all combined to structure a well-crafted, finely-detailed animal that could pass for a real life Bigfoot sighting without a doubt. Though the scenes are brief and obscured at points, “Stomping Ground” has a Bigfoot contender that’ll top the makeshift giant gorilla suits some actors are placed into with very little touchups and the digitally implemented gargantuan that’s over exaggerate in appearance and abilities of the Bigfoot in those other films.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t have a gripe or two about every film I review and there are a couple of issues that deserve expressing here, even if “Stomping Ground” is an independent favorite. Shot on location in North Carolina, the woods felt more like a national park than uncharted territory as a few trail markers were seen on trees and though not necessarily expressed that the woods were uncharted, wouldn’t that still leave the question why Bigfoot has been so elusive? Yes, a few background hints were dropped in the beginning about sightings, but nothing major really split the hairs to make North Carolina the Bigfoot sighting capital of the world. The circle seemed kind of small to just the group of three – Annie, Jed, and possibly Paul. Also, the film’s ending was a bit undercooked, leaving up the air the fate status of Ben and Annie and also of the Bigfoot too. The abrupt finale emerged right when the story was becoming more and more captivating and now I feel unquenched, I feel betrayed, and I feel unsatisfied with our character’s conclusions.
Anvil Entertainment and Irrational Films co-produced the project with independent distributor BrinkVision, who also distributed the praised “Evilution,” releasing the DVD and streaming Video On-Demand on March 8th. Don’t also miss the Theresa Tilly cameo, one of original ladies of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead,” as she’s cast as Annie’s mother. Though we received only a streaming copy for review, “Stomping Ground” does include other extras such as audio commentary by writer-director Dan Riesser and Stars John Bobek and Tarah DeSpain, behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, and the film’s theatrical trailer. We can’t comment on the video or audio quality due in part to the streaming screener copy, but the our overall impression of the film’s quality is above par as no technical errors were discovered or noticeable. Its good to have Bigfoot looking good back on the screen again.