Studio: Dread Presents
Director: Matt Allen
Writer: Matt Allen, Scott Park
Producer: Mitch Dickman, Michael Haskins, Matt Allen
Stars: Cheryl Texiera, Ben Browder, Max Decker, Shoshana Bush, Brian Thompson, Brian Landis Folkins, Schuyler Denham, Anthony Ray Parker, Hutch Dano, Adrienne Barbeau
One month after a mysterious massacre, a TV crew conducts an expedition in a Colorado forest to search for Bigfoot.
First time feature filmmakers in the indie horror space often can’t keep themselves from wearing their influences on their sleeves. Matt Allen does it out of the gate with his directorial debut “Hoax.”
The Sasquatch-centric film opens on a gaggle of pretty people seated around a campfire, weirdly wearing outfits and makeup better tailored for a catalog photo shoot than a night of roughing it in the woods. While one couple makes out and another makes eyes at each other, hiking expedition leader Alex tells tale tales about Bigfoot. On cue, the too-old troupe’s resident prankster bursts from behind the trees with a “boo!”
This is of course a scene straight out of “Friday the 13th” and umpteen other forest-set slashers. The prankster also sports a shirt with the word “Loomis” conspicuously emblazoned across its back for good measure. Matt Allen intentionally sends these signals to enthusiastically announce, “this is a movie made by a lifelong horror fan that affectionately winks at fellow aficionados.”
It’s a catch-22 technique. As a critic, it becomes harder to criticize when I’m aware that well-meaning intentions inspired someone to giddily indulge in the fun side of filmmaking. Allen just wants to play in the same sandboxes where his cinematic heroes once stomped. As a viewer though, this serves as a warning that “Hoax” plans to recycle many trope-tastic tricks. That’s a welcome worn out by the time Allen gets to turning his film on its ear by bizarrely mimeographing “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” for his finale.
Unscrupulous reality TV producer Rick sees an opportunity for exploitation when those no-need-for-names prologuers end up involved in a massacre. Intent on uncovering video evidence of you-know-what, Rick puts together a ragtag team of expected stereotypes for a woodland excursion: a drug-addled diva who serves as the show’s host, a neophyte cameraman, a local guide with a vested interest in the endeavor, and so on. I don’t understand why the group’s expert primatologist has a medical degree too, but one “Dr.” title is as good as another, I guess.
“Hoax” casts the top line of its talent pool from the Sails Pavilion at San Diego Comic-Con. Should that reference rise higher than the hairline, it’s another way of saying the film includes faintly recognizable names, although you may not have heard from some of them in a while.
Ben Browder of “Farscape” leads the lineup as Rick while “X-Files” alum Brian Thompson features as his main foil. Browder flubs one person’s name by referring to him as Peter instead of Cooper, yet the take stays in the picture out of carelessness, indifference, or necessity because no better alternative existed. Meanwhile, Thompson gets to method act the part of a humorless military man by channeling his seemingly lukewarm interest in the role.
Adrienne Barbeau is legitimately good in her unnecessary cameo, and I’m not saying that as a fan who blindly bows down to any drive-by from a B-movie icon. She has dry lines, but soaks them in inflection to add a pinch of veteran personality. Barbeau nevertheless appears content to pick up her paycheck and not have to stay for lunch, likely filming her sixty-second scene so quickly, her driver probably kept the car running the entire time.
I wanted to award “Hoax” a middling 50/100 to show appreciation for its effort. The crew does a more than competent job of lighting and staging nighttime exteriors in a forest, which ranks high on the list of challenging locations for an indie outfit to capture convincingly. To varying degrees of success and unsuccess, “Hoax” also opts for an old school approach to gore effects, sidestepping CGI completely.
Only so many passes can be given out to unenthusiastic acting, a goofy creature suit, and uneven pacing before goodwill gets exhausted. Sadly, I have to inch the score downward because so much of the uneventful film is uninteresting, it can’t even work up a shoulder shrug recommendation.
The midsection consists entirely of inconsequential sequences where characters split up, search, and reconvene with next to nothing having happened. When a full third of a film can disappear with no discernible difference in the plot, a noticeable hole ends up in the malnourished narrative.
Beyond that, “Hoax” culminates in a crazy climax that, despite containing the most engaging moments in the movie, is tonally mismatched with the preceding setup. On one hand, I admire director Matt Allen’s chutzpah for pulling out the rug and forcing his audience to face a few unexpected sights of splattery slaughter. But the hodgepodge of ho-hum horror movie homages, like including a backwoods woman who looks like Lily Munster yet behaves like a gypsy from an old Universal monster mash, becomes more dully redundant than “Hoax” has the ability to bear.
Review Score: 45