Director: Dan Riesser
Writer: Andrew Genser, Dan Riesser
Stars: Thad Bateman, Jeramy Blackford, John Bobek
Let’s get two things out of the way.
Number 1: Stomping Ground is a story revolving around the myth of Bigfoot. Yes, that Bigfoot: Sasquatch, the wooly man, or Boojum, as he’s referred to in this film. Sound good? Great. Let’s move on.
Number 2: Stomping Ground is a fun, entertaining movie, and people should embrace its creativity, excellent directing, and engaging performances. For a low-budget fare, this horror-comedy succeeds by engaging its audience in a very simple premise, but offers enough character development that makes you forget that you are watching a Bigfoot movie.
The plot revolves around a couple with very different backgrounds, echoing tropes from Straw Dogs (the remake more than the Sam Peckinpah classic – more on this below). Ben and Annie – played by John Bobek and Tarah DeSpain – are on their way to meet Annie’s mother in North Carolina for a Thanksgiving holiday trip that serves as a vacation for the overworked Ben and a homecoming for the seemingly “Southern Belle” Annie. The two are picked up by Annie’s mother (a special appearance by Theresa Tilly from the original Evil Dead), where Ben is greeted and later cared for with a familiar “Southern Hospitality” from Annie’s relatives and friends.
All goes well until the men from Annie’s past life, especially her former beau Paul (Jeramy Blackford), conveniently pop up while the couple drinks at a local dive bar. Paul revisits the less flattering, albeit nostalgic moments in Annie’s adolescence, for Annie, we learn, essentially absconded to Chicago and began dating the more refined, hipster-esque Ben who works in the tech industry.
Ben struggles to stay with the memory-driven, bar conversation until Paul recites an anecdote where he and Annie, along with their goofy friend Jed (Justin Giddings), would hike and search the nearby forest for Bigfoot. Ben, now questioning the logic and authenticity of these excursions, fishes for more information, poking so much fun at the idea that Paul decides they should all relive the experience and go out “hunting” the next day. It’s clear Paul has other intentions.
Inevitably a clash of cultures ensues, and Ben is squabbling with Annie over his jealousy from the handsome and cunning Paul, who is gleefully encroaching the bounds of Ben’s and Annie’s now tested relationship. (Blackford, by the way, looks like Ryan Gosling’s long lost brother; a stark contrast from – with all due respect – the nerdy Bobek, who has an uncanny resemblance to Firefly’s Alan Tudyk.) And Ben should be worried. Annie is smitten. Paul is charming and exudes masculinity. Ben is looking for comfort despite being so far out of his comfort zone. Jed is just drunk all the time. It’s a wonderful tension for audiences to experience, especially when Bigfoot finally shows.
Whether one wants to categorize this film as horror comedy should consider the popular storyline pitting a city boy versus a country boy, a convenient microcosm for the American Civil War. The southern men poke fun at Ben’s “city-boy” ethos, testing his tolerance by accentuated their redneck stereotypes to see if Ben’s perceived prejudgment of the South confirms his prejudices.
One such exchange between the three cuckolding characters and (the very self-aware, stereotypical redneck) Jed recalls the infamous pig scene from Deliverance when Paul tells Ben: “Ass rape or not, you’re going to have a great time.” It’s a funny delivery, but extremely awkward for Ben.
Furthermore, such plots do reflect the dynamic of a couple converging from very different backgrounds, whose love doesn’t necessarily signify a marrying of two worlds but more of a binary of two countries. Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs attempted to explore this clash in a more serious commentary about a white-collar, mathematician escaping the violence of 1970’s America and retreating to his wife’s blue-collar, “dim-witted” hometown in England. The 2011 remake follows a similar plot but situates the couple in the South, a way to reflect the North’s arrogance and invasion of a redneck, religiously zealous town that’s just happy to have one of their own back home (the wife, of course).
In essence, Stomping Ground is the same film, but with self-aware humor and, well, Bigfoot. The conclusion of both Straw Dogs saw a clash between outsider and natives, in a fight where intellectual arrogance prevails over a unified South, or a country that lost its empire.
Spoiler: A similar conclusion will happen in Stomping Ground, where, regardless of Bigfoot – or any monster for that matter – the war between humans rages on. At least the war is fun.
Stomping Ground is released on the DVD and VOD March 8 (North America)
Images courtesy of BrinkVision