I caught this one on Netflix last week and found it a pleasant surprise. Not a perfect film, but it’s a worthy effort. The premise is simple, as many if not most premises for truly great Horror films are simple. Four people break down in the woods, and get on the bad side of a vengeful grizzly bear. How does a capable filmmaker lift his product above its simple foundation to make of it something extraordinary? He starts with a good script, which BEAR has. The four victims are composed of two brothers, one brother’s girlfriend and one brother’s wife. The social interaction and beneath-the-surface drama going on with the quartet fuels the film and makes the viewer actually care what happens to them when things start going bad, a kind of empathy that can’t be achieved with cookie-cutter, paper-thin characters like we all too often get in such films.
Then you cast good actors, which BEAR has. Lastly, you need a convincing beast. BEAR goes with an actual bruin instead of CGI effects, to both good and ill effect. The positive side is that the bear looks realistic (cuz it is) but the downside is that the monster (and all films such as this ARE Monster movies in essence) ends up looking cute and cuddly throughout the film. The weaknesses show through during the attack scenes, some of them, when the bear is replaced by a guy in a none-too-convincing bear suit. This guy is wisely kept offscreen and in the shadows most of the time, but you do occasionally catch a glimpse of him, and it’s obvious he ain’t the real bear. (There’s also one scene where the victims are trapped in a drainage pipe. It’s supposed to be nighttime, but the scene was obviously filmed during the day. Either that, or it was WAY overlit. Either way, it served as a reminder to me that I was just watching a movie, after all, wrecking the needed suspension of disbelief.) The actors, while delivering strong performances overall, don’t quite have the necessary chops to sell the big emotional meltdown scene that comes towards the end of the flick, but they make a game effort. This one teeters on the cusp of a B+ and an A- for me. Worth checking out.