Maneater (2009)

JUNE 10, 2011


Usually, my "research" before writing a review is limited to reading the IMDb and Wikipedia pages (not counting whatever bonus material is on the DVD if that was the source), but for Maneater I went a bit out of the way to find out when the film was shot, because I had to know if its Twilight connections were coincidence or undoubtedly intentional. Sadly, I'm still unsure, since the movie was shot in August of 2008, before Twilight's release, but long after it was shot/cast. And of course, the book was out for a while before then.

I mean, it's hard to ignore the story similarities. The focus is more on the father, but no matter how you slice it, it's about a small town sheriff who lives in an isolated house with his teenage daughter, and she begins seeing a mysterious guy who may be responsible for the deaths that are occurring. They fight over whether she should be dating, the boy and the father have an awkward/amusing first meeting, etc. And her best friend even resembles Anna Kendrick! So I dunno, kind of distracting to say the least.

Luckily, it's much more of a real horror movie than Twilight, in that it's not a rogue (but still unproductive) vampire that's killing folks, but a Wendigo, and an active one at that. There's an unsuccessful (and largely abandoned after the first act) attempt to make it into a serial killer type approach to the material, as hero Dean Cain is a profiler who used to work for the FBI, and our first murder scene is grim and dark, as is the following investigation scene. But unfortunately they drop that in favor of a nonsensical plot turn involving Cain's wife, who left him a while back, and too many Twi-fied scenes of the teenagers sneaking around.

When I was younger I didn't notice/care about inane coincidences in movies too much, but even when I was 11, I HATED the reveal in Lethal Weapon 2 that the villains in that film were responsible for Riggs' wife's death prior to the events of the first movie. I didn't know WHY it annoyed me at the time, it just did. Now I know though - it's unnecessary ret-conning. Riggs already had a good reason to want to see them dead in this one, why bother coming up with an insanely contrived reason for him to hate them even more? I actually like when things just happen at random in movies and don't have any deeper meaning, because it adds a bit of realism to it - accidents DO happen. So when a similar thing happened here, the movie just lost me. We get a dream sequence detailing the circumstances of the night Cain's wife left him, and it's actually kind of sad; she offers the standard "I'm going out for cigarettes" line, and he offers to drive her, to which she sadly says no. Nothing award-worthy, but it's a melancholy, well played scene.

Unfortunately two seconds later they ruin the goodwill it had earned, by showing her walking through the woods (utilizing the least effective snorri-cam shot in history in the process) and getting killed by the Wendigo. Why the hell does she have to be a victim of the same monster he's just now starting to track? It's pointless. I'm sure some folks think it's cool or a really great twist, but all it says to me is that the movie doesn't have any life or history beyond what's actually detailed in the movie, which makes it far less interesting to me.

Back to the dream sequences, there are far too many of them. Since Cain barely does any profiling/investigating after the first act, there's no need to keep returning to them (he claims his dreams are what help him profile), especially since most of his work on the case involves standard movie police work, i.e. going to talk to the Native American characters and listening to them tell their legends (read: deliver exposition). But we still get dream sequences, including a horribly misguided one in which he tries to kill his daughter in retaliation for seeing the boy. I assume this is some strange attempt to paint him as a possible suspect as well, but if so its a colossal failure at one.

Indeed, I had pegged two suspects as the killer early on, and it turned out to be one of them* (the boyfriend never came across as a real suspect either). He provides his reasons via a monster voice that is nearly impossible to understand, but I did make out "your whore wife" at one point, which again just annoyed me. Can't a monster just be a monster? Why always with the motive? It's one thing for a human slasher, but when it's some supposedly wild beast, the idea that it's going after people for a reason makes it silly, which doesn't gel with the serious tone the movie had at the beginning. You know what a monster with a motive is? Jaws The Revenge. Do you want your audience comparing your movie to Jaws The Revenge? I don't think so.

I was also baffled by the movie's odd depiction of Los Angeles, making it sound like some sort of warzone. When the boyfriend encounters a grizzly and makes it out in one piece, a cop compliments him, to which the kid replies something like "Hey I'm from LA, I'm used to grizzlies". What? Either this is some weird gay joke (bears) or the writer has his geography confused. The fact that the movie was clearly shot in the north part of LA County makes it even more puzzling.

On the plus side, it's better than the other Maneater, and it's well shot, though I wasn't a big fan of the strange, almost comic book panel style approach to the kill scenes. There's a surprisingly high amount of nudity, and the ladies were all nice to look at (particularly Ellie Gerber, who is sadly in it the least). Cain may not be as engaging as Billy Burke, but he does a good job in both the "troubled cop" and the "angry dad" roles, and it's a shame he never got another hit show to work on; he may not have the chops to be a big movie star, but he's got a charisma that's well suited for the small screen and should be utilized in something besides Syfy Original movies (or things like this, which is basically an SOM with more swearing and nudity). But the jumbled, coincidence-heavy script weighs it down; it's not a terrible movie by any means, but unfortunately just becomes more bland and forgettable as it goes. Maybe if you watch it backwards you'll walk away with a better impression.

What say you?

*Hilariously, the incoherent, rushed epilogue suggests that my other suspect is now stricken with the Wendigo curse, so I pat myself on the back for that one. I was right twice!


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