By Jason Sawyer – Jan. 6, 2019
Released Nov. 13, 2015
Unrated (equal to rated R for violence, imagery, language, and brief nudity) – 1hr 27min
Directed by Adam Massey
Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Chloe Bradt, Michael Cram
Doug Woods (Diamantopolous) is the host of a wilderness survival TV show that has just been picked up by a major network. His crew drops him off in the middle of Canada’s sprawling forestlands with camera gear and meager supplies to film a 5-day trek to demonstrate survival techniques in a real setting. Things start off well enough, but after being woken by a loud crash on his first night, Doug will find that he has more than the elements to endure in order to get out alive.
Survivorman Vs. Predator – Man Vs. is an elegantly simple concept. While portions of it can be qualified as found footage, as it is in the fashion of the survival reality TV shows that were quite popular about 10 years ago, most of it is in a standard presentation.
Narrative: As the premise might suggest, much of Man Vs. is a one-man show. After a swift first act gets the protagonist to his isolated location and he establishes his camp, the tension rises in a steady arc toward a harrowing climactic confrontation. There is some secondary conflict introduced throughout the introduction that doesn’t really go anywhere, but the film doesn’t dwell on it much, so nothing is lost by it either. If you were a fan of the shows that the movie mimics, like me, you’ll find a lot of elements from them expertly duplicated and cleverly subverted to create a particularly immersive story.
Acting: Again, it’s mostly a one-man show, so Man Vs. is positioned to live or die on the strength of the lead performance. Fortunately, Chris Diamantopoulos is fantastic here as the survival expert host who finds a lot more to survive than he signed up for. Having seen a lot of Survivorman myself, I’d say that he consciously modeled the character specifically off Les Stroud, as many of his mannerisms, deliveries, and even specific techniques evoke, if not mirror, the famous Discovery Channel personality. Diamantopoulos makes for a charismatic and relatable protagonist who begrudgingly transforms into an impromptu action hero once the situation calls for it.
“This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it hurts me.”
Appearance: With Man Vs., director/co-writer Adam Massey has three primary jobs lined up for himself. On the first – putting forth a convincing mock-up of a survival TV show – he nails it. It definitely captures the vibe of that genre, and so, the foundation for the film is as solid as can be. Second, it needs to convey a sense of utter isolation to properly develop suspense, and he does this too, with a lot of great shots of the wild sylvan setting that truly establishes a sense of place for our hero. Third, when the action gets thick and the movie needs to shift gears, the action sequences need to get the adrenaline rushing with edge-of-seat suspense, and…it’s not so glowing there. It kicks off with a pretty amazing shot, but it also becomes a lot of chaotic running through the forest. There’s still some memorable bits though, but can no longer avoid the proverbial elephant in the room. The antagonist is a CGI manifestation and, frankly, looks pretty ugly. Not the good kind of ugly either. It’s not laughably terrible, but it’s something of a mood killer. I appreciate the limited budget here, but something practical and obscured may have been preferable to this creature that stumbled out of a SyFy original movie.
Horror Elements: Pretty damn solid. There’s a lot of tension and suspense throughout, and when things get nasty, they’re convincingly nasty. It’s a shame about the creature design though. It’s important to stress that it isn’t a total deal-breaker – at least not for most. For some, it’s going to be an insurmountable obstacle.
Sound: Staying in character with its premise, much of the score of Man Vs., when present, is a dark variation of the kind of music heard in survival TV shows – like a desolate outdoors-y instrumental folk thing. In the third act, it trades that in for a generic action-time vibe.
TL;DR: Man Vs. is a riveting action/horror film that moves along at a quick pace. It’s of particular interest to fans of wilderness survival television, as it maintains an unusually authentic dedication to recreating the experience of those shows. It doesn’t fully realize all its potential in the end, likely due to an ambitious premise that over-stretched a meager budget and a plot that unwisely decided to only increase its scope and scale as the climax went on, but this is still a very solid movie that deserves more attention than it has received.