Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Bruce Dern, Cindy Sampson, Nicolas Wright, Allison Graham, James Kindie
Directed by David Winning
Distributed by Genius Home Entertainment
Swamp Devil is the type of movie I really hate having to write a review of because I don’t really have a strong opinion about it one way or another. It’s not good enough to praise or bad enough to rip apart. It’s not even cheesy enough to laugh at. It’s strictly middle of the road from start to finish; watchable yet flat, brisk yet uninspired. It’s a movie that benefits from a solid cast, good production values and an agreeable pace. It still suffers from a pedestrian script, a stuffy tone, and a general lack of chills or fun given the nature of the beast.
The title beast of this RHI/Muse Entertainment creature feature looks like an NBA-sized version of Swamp Thing with feet that look like mossy bellbottoms of all things. It can elongate its arm up to several yards to nab people and even make arm-like appendages pop out of the ground to attack victims. In many ways it’s just Swamp Thing’s evil, taller, mute cousin. I kept wondering why nobody ever thought to just light a match since the monster appeared to be composed primarily of kindling. I might have preferred that over the awfully convenient means by which they do dispatch with this rampaging pile of plant life at the end.
Howard Blaime (Bruce Dern) is the ex-sheriff of the small community of Gibbington, Vermont. Now he’s a hermit living out in the swamp and considered by many to be the town kook. His trouble all began with a mysterious incident 17 years earlier that led to the death of his wife and him sending his daughter away. Now something in the swamp has killed a teenage girl and Howard is getting blamed for the murder. He goes on the run in the woods seemingly for days on end yet somehow never looks especially dirty or even in dire need of a hot shower.
This didn’t appear to be much of a swamp to me, a denizen of the Deep South. A boggy pool of water in the middle of the Vermont woods hardly constitutes a swamp in my book. Does Vermont even have swampland? I know I’ve never seen, heard, or read anything about swamps in Vermont. No matter.
I also don’t know a police department on the planet in the year 2008 that would think it a good idea to give the grieving father of a murdered teenager a shotgun and have him join the posse hunting for the alleged killer in the woods. Any other police department except for Gibbington, Vermont, that is.
A young local guy named Jimmy calls Howard’s estranged daughter Melanie and tells him her father is dying. Only when she gets there does he tell her that her dad is not dying but is actually wanted for murder. It’s up to Melanie to begin piecing together the truth about what’s really going on in Gibbington and what actually happened nearly twenty years earlier in order to prove that her father is no killer but that swamp monster is. The local authorities don’t believe in swamp monsters – at first.
The movie is not exactly subtle about letting us know certain characters are clearly not what they appear to be. Melanie has no recollection of ever knowing a Jimmy when she lived in Gibbington even though he insists they knew each other as kids, he strangely won’t cross the city limits out of town, and she even asks him at one point why his hands are covered in dirt for no particular reason. Gee, you don’t suppose he’s got some ties to the swamp devil or maybe even is the swamp devil?
Immediately upon arriving in town Jimmy will take Melanie to meet this kindly old lady with almost mystical healing abilities yet on the way out Melanie catches the old lady giving her a less-than-friendly glare. Gee, I wonder if there’s something ominous about her as well…?
You don’t need me sounding like a smarty pants to tell you just how predictable the plot to this is.
All will eventually be revealed; or rather, I should say, explained. Swamp Devil is very much a tell, not show, kind of movie; the kind where too much of the plot and characterizations has to be spelled out in the form of conversations between various characters. Bruce Dern barely shows his face for the first half and the moment he does make his presence known he immediately launches into a lengthy soliloquy explaining almost all of the backstory.
Swamp Devil should have been a moodier movie with a spookier atmosphere, one that ratcheted up the creep factor. Instead it plays like a less brooding follow-up to that awful Man-Thing movie from a few years back that kills it own mood by being set almost entirely in broad daylight. Could you imagine if Pumpkinhead had its title monster running around in broad daylight? Why am I willing to bet it was a Sci-Fi Channel exec who made the call to set what should have been a murky atmospheric chiller in the bright light of day?
2 1/2 out of 5
0 out of 5
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