New Horror Releases: The Wild Man (2021) - Reviewed

A faux documentary style can work pretty well for horror, in no small part because it believably limits what the audience is allowed to see. In the dark, the only things visible are whatever is caught in the camera’s light, meaning a threat could be lurking anywhere. The documentary-style horror movie The Wild Man utilizes this approach to its advantage, building tension when the characters have no idea what they are up against. It works when its monster is heard or barely seen. It is less successful the more it shows and explains. Its sense of mood is uneven and it can be ridiculous in both positive and negative ways. However, due in part to solid performances and a screenplay that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is a reasonably clever spin on the myth of Bigfoot.

A documentary film crew goes to the Florida Everglades to investigate a series of missing persons. After hearing about a monster called the Skunk Ape (basically, a stinky Bigfoot), they head into the woods with a self-styled expert to find out the truth.


The Wild Man builds slowly, establishing the personalities of its fictional filmmakers. Sarah is the driving force behind the project, desperate to break a big story. Brandon is her boyfriend, willing to go as far as he has to in order to make her happy. Then there is Tim, the cameraman, who thinks this is all crazy and just wants to go home. 

As usual for this type of story, the locals are either openly antagonistic toward the newcomers or they are off-putting conspiracy theorists. The fact that Brandon and Tim are black adds a layer of racial tension that the movie encourages, but doesn’t do a whole lot with. Although the characters don’t get a ton of depth, they do get some amusing dialogue that makes them stand out as individuals. The story is not surprising, yet it is familiar in a clever way.


While there are a handful of moments where the production seems to cheat a little bit as it relates to how the footage is being captured, it uses the format fairly effectively. It isn’t particularly scary (despite the scenes in the woods being somewhat suspenseful). Still, the movie is able to create the very convincing sense that these people are in way over their heads. There is also good timing on several reaction shots, specifically the documentary staple where something happens and then it cuts to someone commenting on the situation later on. 


The Wild Man does make a few jokes at its characters’ expense, even when things start to go wrong. However, it mostly refrains from taking cheap shots at the small-town weirdos (though Sarah, Brandon and Tim certainly don’t). Dale, their guide to finding the Skunk Ape, is a Florida cliché: the gun-toting, conspiracy nut, who has a deep distrust of the government. He is an easy target, yet the movie does not let him drift into caricature. 


The Wild Man is fun because the mix of genre and style was clearly well-thought-out and the plot finds the right balance of horror and character. Low-budget Bigfoot-based horror may be common, but this one is enjoyably entertaining.

—Ben Pivoz