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New Release Review - STOMPING GROUND (DVD)

A young woman takes her new boyfriend along on a Bigfoot hunt.



Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Dan Riesser

Starring: Tarah DeSpain, Jeramy Blackford, John Bobek, Justin Giddings



An early mark of Stomping Ground’s accomplishments is the fact that, until someone brings him up, you sort of forget that you’re meant to be watching a Bigfoot movie. So believable are the characters, I was happy enough spending time in the characters’ company as they drank, hiked and egged each other on.



It’s a wonder that there aren’t more low-budget horror flicks featuring Bigfoot. In terms of practicalities, the yeti movie would seem an economical winner; there’s no need for sets as the filming would have to take place in ready-made forests, a tall fella in a monkey mask glimpsed lumbering about in murky background is somehow more forgivable than poor werewolf effects, and the lost in the woods dynamic has been a narrative staple since Perrault sent his Red Riding Hood into the forests of seventeenth century Europe. Unlike vampires and zombies, who we (sadly) know don’t exist, there’s also a little question mark over the prospect of the yeti, the sasquatch, the abominable snowman, which manifests in real life cryptozoological research, and, consequently, lots of real life maybe sightings and conveniently blurred photographs of hairy bipeds running away from the camera.  On reflection, then, perhaps the reason for Bigfoot’s relative absence from the creature feature canon is the monster’s real life association with hoax and fakery: how can we take the big furry fella seriously in the movies if we can’t in reality?
Recognising this dissonance, Dan Riesser (director) and Andrew Genser’s (writer) Stomping Ground roots itself in the human drama of relationships rather than full on monster horror, with main characters Ben (John Bobek) and Annie (Tarah DeSpain) returning to the latter’s North Carolinian home for a vacation. The couple are in the awkward early stages of their relationship; forget Bigfoot, the real mammoth in the room is how far or not these two are suited, and what little they actually know of each other. In a drunken move that further evokes the hesitancy of the courtship, the two are encouraged along to a camping trip to find the Bigfoot that Annie and her backwoods pals used to look for as kids. Along for the hunt are hillbilly imbecile Jed (Justin Giddings) and jealous, volatile ex of Annie, Paul (Jeramy Blackford) - again, with friends like that, who needs a yeti?
An early mark of Stomping Ground’s accomplishments is the fact that, until someone brings him up, you sort of forget that you’re meant to be watching a Bigfoot movie. So believable are the characters, and so funnily acute the petty jealousies and gnawing insecurities of Ben, that I was happy enough spending time in the characters’ company as they drank, hiked and egged each other on. This is Ben’s film really, a sympathetic observation of masculine pride and male insecurity. He is an ‘indoor kid’, a social media analyst whose practicality stretches as far as assembling some ikea furniture, and whose manliness is tested as his gf Annie (whose character perhaps isn’t given the scope her counterpart is) innocently flirts with Paul, while seasoned camper Jed winds him up about his ‘Big City’ naivety. There’s a playful final girl dynamic transferred to Ben: he is a ‘pot virgin’ who is denied sex by Annie (mindful that any outdoor amour may encourage ‘Boojum’), although, refreshingly, I liked how when the fur does hit the fan later in the film, it isn’t a case of Ben losing his civility that potentially saves the day (a tiresome case of becoming the beast to defeat the beast), but his consistent human decency that is instead drawn upon and shown to be worthy.
About that fur hitting the fan... Like in Bobcat Goldthwait’s unsettling Willow Creek (a film that shares striking similarities with Stomping Ground, even beyond its furry antagonist), Bigfoot sightings are, perhaps wisely, kept to a minimum in this film. However, whereas Willow Creek gently agitated the viewer throughout, Stomping Ground reserves its horror for the final reel. Despite enjoying the interaction of the cast and the sharp cinematography, I felt that the film should really have benefitted from being a little scarier: Boojum seems a mischievous, intimidating presence and it would have been suspenseful to suggest more spooky evidence of him earlier on. As a bittersweet romcom, Stomping Ground makes its mark, but in terms of horror, it treads a little too carefully.
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