By: Addison Wylie
Adam Massey’s broiling small-scale thriller Man Vs. follows reality television show host Doug Woods (a Les Stroud clone played by The Three Stooges’ Chris Diamantopoulos) on his latest survival adventure. Woods gears up for a five-day retreat in Northern Ontario while his production crew camps out far enough away for Doug to fully seclude himself in nature. As these wilderness shows often hammer in, fire and shelter is critical – Doug builds both using the brush around him as well as the hand-selected surprise items found in his knapsack.
During this alone time, a large number of scenes take place between himself, various GoPro cameras, and other miscellaneous equipment that seem to run on the longest lasting batteries ever made. Things start to go bump in the night, and Doug – growing more paranoid – starts thinking of an exit strategy.
Massey (who is also credited for conjuring up this rote story) doesn’t know the difference between a “slow burn” and “nothingness”. Clues are revealed cautiously, but these hints are far and few between. For 50-minutes, nothing truly meaningful happens. Doug’s stressful stakes are established, but the majority of Man Vs. features the host explaining survival tips out loud towards his locked-off cameras – I pity Doug Woods’ editor.
We watch Doug play chess with himself, graphically prepare rabbit for his dinner, crack wise with lame jokes, sleep, and explain how to set traps. Diamantopoulos has an extensive background as an actor, but with Thomas Michael’s insufficient screenplay and Massey’s lack of direction, he spins his wheels, racks his brain, he’s inevitably screwed when trying to make this hollow role interesting.
Man Vs. plays like a boring remake of The Blair Witch Project where every atmospheric element is spelt out for the audience. The nightly noises are ambiguous, his survival items are constantly being tampered with, and he randomly finds ooze all over the place including on a creation that looks strangely similar to Blair Witch’s stickman.
The audience can guess early on what exactly is tormenting Doug on his trip – the digital noise on his footage is a dead giveaway. When the reveal happens, budgetary restraints hamper the weak conclusion from being menacing. Much like this year’s sci-fi catastrophe Debug, Man Vs. treads tired territory and expects the audience to be wowed by the bare minimum; this makes movie goers feel awkward.
The final scenes of Man Vs. suggest a sequel could be coming. Here’s hoping that show stays in its pilot stages.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie