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Film Review: “The Wild Man,” Just Like Florida, Is a Mixed Bag

Written by: Matt Patti | October 6th, 2022

Film poster: “The Wild Man”

The Wild Man (Ryan Justice, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.

Florida is, in my opinion, the strangest state in the U.S. There are many different climates, many different types of people, and varying weather that makes it a mixed bag on pretty much every level. It is also known for its many theme parks and beaches, but much of Florida is marshland filled with creatures that the rest of Americans fear. Alligators, snakes, palmetto bugs, and so much more roam the land. These monsters are sure to freak out tourists, but what else may lie in the Florida wilderness?

The Wild Man, from director Ryan Justice (Followers), takes place in South Florida in a small town where the local legend of a “Skunk Ape”—essentially Florida’s Bigfoot—has folks in a frenzy, especially with the recent disappearances of locals. Working on a college film project, Sarah (Lauren Crandall), her boyfriend Brandon (Julian Green), and his friend Tim (Mike Reed) venture to the town of Ochopee. They shoot many interviews with townspeople about both missing people and the Skunk Ape. Finally, they visit Dale (David E. McMahon), the town’s resident conspiracy theorist, who fully believes in the Skunk Ape and offers to take the trio out to the woods to find it. While Sarah willingly accepts, Brandon and Tim are a bit hesitant. However, Sarah will stop at nothing to find evidence of the creature. Will her determination cost the group their lives?

l-r: Lauren Crandall and Julian Green in THE WILD MAN ©Terror Films

The Wild Man begins with a well-made, news-style feature about the town of Ochopee, its residents, and their thoughts on the missing locals as well as the Skunk Ape urban legend. From there, the rest of the film contains found footage. The cinematography is surprisingly excellent, specifically for a found-footage film. However, there are many instances throughout the film where a camera in the world of the film should not be recording. Sometimes, the camera seems to have been left in a corner and is still recording what should be a very private conversation. The characters also act at times as if there is no camera capturing them. It is bizarre and a bit lazy on the filmmakers’ part to not have a specific reason for some scenes to have been recorded by the camera in the film, and it is quite distracting when this happens so often.

Outside of this aspect of the film, the other qualities of The Wild Man are hit or miss. The performances of Crandall, Green, and Reed, as the college students Sarah, Brandon, and Tim, respectively, are all exceptional. Crandall, specifically, is spectacular. The three show a bond on screen that almost convinces the audience that they are actual best friends in real life. Sadly, much of the supporting cast give subpar performances which detract from the quality performances given by our main players.

A still from THE WILD MAN ©Terror Films

The plot of The Wild Man is vastly different in the first half than in the second. In fact, the film really feels like two different movies mashed together. While the first half is intriguing and mysterious and explores our characters’ motives and personalities, the second is more action-packed and fast-paced. There’s a twist about halfway through which is the root cause for this tonal change, but I found myself disliking the film more and more as it gets closer to its conclusion, as characters’ decisions become more ill-advised and dialogue becomes cheesier and cheesier. A reveal at the end of the film is a compelling one, though one can admittedly see it coming from a mile away.

Overall, The Wild Man, just like Florida itself, is an inconsistent mixture of elements. While the performances of the main cast are exceptional and the first half of the film pulls the viewer in and holds their attention, some poor performances, along with a variety of foolish calls and overly extensive explanations in the second half, push the audience away. One thing I do know is that, though this film is fictional, I would not be surprised at all if real events similar to the ones depicted in this film happened in actual Florida.

Michael Paré in THE WILD MAN ©Terror Films

Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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