Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Justin Meeks, Alex Garcia, Stacy Meeks, Edmond J. Geyer
Directed by Duane Graves & Justin Meeks
Distributed by MPI Media Group
Inspired by tales of ill-tempered Bigfoot creatures reportedly sighted along the Navidad River near the small community of Sublime, Texas and claiming to be based on the actual series of events recorded in the journals of a local fellow by the name of Dale S. Rogers chronicling the true story surrounding the local legend, exactly how much of the twangy creepshow The Wild Man of the Navidad is fact and how much is fiction is a debate I’ll leave to the cryptozoologists and their ilk. You can head over to the film’s official website and read up on some of the reported encounters with the wild man and make up your own mind. I’m forced to lean towards bunk if only because I find it impossible to believe that the film’s conclusion actually occurred and yet nobody bothered to snap a photo…
Something there is no debating; the opening credits of The Wild Man of the Navidad captures the spirit of those 1970’s Bigfoot flicks better than any of the recent crop of killer Sasquatch flicks to come along in recent years. Heck, it nails it better than even most of the recent crop of retro grindhouse homages that have sprung forth. Dead-on accurate from the footage of local wildlife that’s remarkably calm yet strangely spooky to the font type used for the credits to the quiet yet unsettling music to the introductory voiceover provided by a man with a voice so gravelly you could probably drive a 4×4 on it – this guy could read from Dr. Seuss and make it sound traumatic.
Legend of Boggy Creek and Creature from Black Lake are the two 1970’s Sasquatchploitation flicks that instantly spring to mind when looking for something to compare The Wild Man of the Navidad to. Small town country settings, plenty of local flavor, down home music, a constant shroud of something just not being right lingering in the air, and a film that’s as much a mood piece as it is a typical horror shocker; had they shot this one on film instead of digital and given it a grainy quality, The Wild Man of the Navidad could have almost passed for a 30-year old regional drive-in fright flick. I have to say almost because as much as it sets out to be a throwback to a bygone era of cinema – don’t know if the filmmakers would consider this a compliment or not – it really struck as me as the sort of small indie horror more likely to turn up in the arthouse than the grindhouse, more Sundance Channel than late night cable. By that I mean it’s a little too well made from a technical standpoint and it’s often low key demeanor and deliberate pacing flies in the face of most modern horror movies that are more about being in your face. Don’t expect much by way of cheap jump scares or gross out moments – though there are little of both. This is a moody monster movie aided considerably by a simple reverberating score that pounds home a sense of dread that hangs over everything.
Filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks paired up with original Texas Chainsaw Massacre producer Kim Henkel, whose influence is quite evident, to bring us a creepy Southern fried creature feature, again, allegedly based on true events. The main character is Dale S. Rogers, whose journals are said to be the basis for the film. An actual time frame of when it’s all taking place is never stated; it’s obviously sometime in the early Seventies. A quiet man who hasn’t been quite right since his dad was killed under suspicious circumstances and his wife Jean suffered a debilitating stroke after being involved in a car accident, Dale S. Rogers (played by co-writer/director Justin Meeks) could be described as something of a sad sack, white trash, Jeremy Piven-type. A smile never crossing his face, Rogers looks as if he could burst into tears at a moments notice. He resides on his family’s property with his nearly catatonic wheelchair bound wife and a Mexican migrant who acts as a caretaker for her, but unbeknownst to Dale, the guy also molests her whenever he gets an opportunity.
Dale’s strapped for cash after getting fired from his job and contemplates opening up the 600 acres of land that’s been in his family for five generations which local hunters are dying for him to let them hunt after being forbidden to do so for the last 30 years. They’ll be dying even more so soon enough since those river bottoms are where the wild things really are. Dale’s well aware that something inhuman stalks his family’s property, something he’s personally frightened of and knows to be potentially dangerous, but, hey, a man’s gotta eat.
A man-beast’s gotta eat too. Dale keeps a fridge full of skinned rabbits, one of which he leaves on the back doorstep every night for the beast. In return, almost as a “thank you” or sign of mutual respect, whatever it is will leave behind an offering of its own. But when it’s not happy, such as when it gets wounded by the first hunter Dale lets onto his property, not only will it not leave an offering, it tears up the backyard and threatens to possibly even break into the house. The fear factor excels during these scenes as we’re only privy to Dale’s point-of-view inside the house. Everything going on the other side of that back door when the beast comes a’ calling is left up to our imagination outside of the sounds of the creature grunting and growling or roaring, smashing things up and banging on the door when angered later on. I wouldn’t recommend watching these scenes at night alone with the lights out.
Also don’t ever expect any real answers as to what it actually is even though there’s plenty of speculation amongst Dale and his housemate and a variety of local yokels about its true nature. The film initially gives us a sense that the beast is a traditional Bigfoot creature, but once we start getting brief glimpses of it, what we see is someone or something clad in raggedy animal skins wielding deer antlers as weaponry. The film begins taking on a bit of a slasher movie quality as it goes along, what with a seemingly inhuman killer under a hood using a unique weapon of choice as an instrument of death. Whether or not you’re ultimately satisfied with the true nature of this beast, the “wild man” certainly makes for a unique and somewhat original “it”.
The hunters Dale lets onto his property start turning up either dead, scared witless, or badly injured. Let me just go on the record right now and state that if I ever get gutted and beg you to take me to the hospital, please don’t drive me to the nearest bar that ought to have a cherry red sign out front stating “YOUR NECK MUST BE THIS RED TO ENTER” so that I can explain to the hicks inside what happened to cause my entrails to begin exiting my abdomen before getting me to the hospital and the medical care I so desperately need. I’d much appreciate that. Thanks.
Now as much as I admire what the filmmakers have done, I can’t quite call the film a home run. After so much build and build and build, the actual climax proved remarkably abrupt and too simplistic to be fully satisfactory. And again, if this ending is to be believed, am I really to believe nobody in Sublime, Texas owned a camera?
Though I appreciated the slow build I must say there were points where it began testing my patience. Things do drift a bit too aimlessly from time to time until everything suddenly shifts into overdrive during the third act with one seemingly random vignette after another of the wild man running wild on random townsfolk.
I also found myself quibbling with aspects of the story that seemed to get thrown out there without more detail, primarily stuff involving the truth about the death of Dale’s father and some older gentlemen who are also well aware that the thing that roams the Navidad is more than just a tall tale. The whole deal with the Mexican caretaker molesting the invalid wife also seemed rather unnecessary, not to mention needlessly tasteless.
There’s also the matter of some of the acting being quite terrible. The opening graphic claims that some of the actors seen in the film are not actors at all but actual participants in the original series of events. I’m thinking that was just a sly way to try and explain why some of the minor supporting players are comically bad when delivering even the simplest lines of dialogue.
The DVD is also stacked from top to bottom with just about everything you could want in terms of behind-the-scenes stuff and other bits of supplemental material, thereby upping this one’s “buy me” ante ten-fold.
Strangely enough, like Legend of Boggy Creek, Creature from Black Lake, and many a similar movie of the era in which this film is ambiguously set, The Wild Man of the Navidad works in spite of its drawbacks and some of those drawbacks, such as the amateurish local actors that fill some of the lesser roles, give the film added flavor to go along with its eerie homespun charm that helps you overlook its shortcomings. Quaint yet ominous, understated instead of over the top; horror fans that worship at the alter of “nu horror” and ultraviolence probably won’t find much to like or have the patience for a slow burner like The Wild Man of the Navidad, but fans of Legend of Boggy Creek are going to love it.
3 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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