The scariest monsters are always the ones that retain some form of humanity. This doesn't have to be physical, who doesn't feel some pang of compassion when they see the demise of the captured Arachnid in 'Starship Troopers'? It is natural to anthropomorphise, natural to put both feet firmly in the boots of the character and try to feel what they feel.
This, Misters and Gentleladies, is the main reason why I am usually put-off by creature features. There is something about a faceless, featureless, compassionless antagonist that just seems to turn me off, a lack of empathy killing any real connection that I have to the film. So, it was with some trepidation that I set-out to watch John Portanova's 'Valley of the Sasquatch'.
The premise of the film is simple enough. Due to a recent alcohol-induced tragedy, a father (Jason Vail) and a son (Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) move out of their suburban home and into a cabin in the woods. Along with two bickering friends (David Saucedo and D'Angelo Midili), a hunting trip, a mysterious stranger (Bill Oberst Jr) they fight for their lives against a bunch of angry Sasquatches.
The first half of the film did little to alleviate my initial fears. The slow build-up only offered a glimpse of the group of hairy aggressors, hiding the horror behind an admirable attempt at developing the four main characters. This is something that horror movies sometimes fail to do; sticking to well-aged tropes in order to focus on the development of atmosphere. In the case of 'Valley of the Sasquatch', part of me wishes that they had scrapped some of the early character development in order to fix the inherent pacing issues.
Both the acting and how the characters are written appears to be patchy and because of this the first two-thirds of the film is devoid of any real atmosphere. However much I admire the writing and the character interaction, the film does little to build up any form of dread. The few early scenes that try to remedy this just seem out of place and feel like they were put there simply to try forcing the plot forward. This just makes certain elements feel contrived and also prevents you from feeling any real fear.
The acting in this film ranged from average to wonderful. Bill Oberst Jr shone as Bauman, imbuing the film with a sense of tension when it desperately needed it. His character offered the story some much needed backstory, fleshing out the skeletal plot and also pushing it forward towards its stellar finale. I also found the relationship between the son and his uncle more interesting than the father/son plot and it was some of these scenes and the humour was contained within them that I found most endearing.
I say it again - the scariest monsters are always the ones that retain some form of humanity. About three quarters of the way through the film something seemed to happen; I began to empathise more with the antagonists than with the protagonists. Watching a Sasquatch getting brutally bludgeoned to death evoked more emotion in me than the stabbing of one of the main characters (this was also one of the more likeable characters too). The antagonists themselves are a bit hit and miss – they are quite often only shown in the dark and quite often the way they move makes it all too obvious that they are men in full body suits. However, this actually works to the film’s advantage in the sense that there always remains something very ‘human’ about the Sasquatches.
On the whole, despite having some flaws I really enjoyed 'Valley of the Sasquatch'. It is far from perfect; uneven pacing, uneven creatures and uneven acting giving the film a hit-and-miss kinda feel. The scariest monsters are always the ones that make us question our own humanity and make us appreciate what it means to be human.
- Michael A. Withell.