Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Justin Steeley
Writer: Justin Steeley
Producer: Justin Steeley
Stars: Chris Copeland, Hannah Wallace, Jeff Causey, Justin Steeley, Alex Ballew, Stan Copeland
Accompanied by two friends and a documentary film duo, Chris Copeland sets out for the deep woods of Alabama to find the beast that killed his father.
It would be simple enough to pass right by “Hunting the Legend” as one more “found footage” lost-in-the-woods caper, and anyone unwilling to take another swipe at that dead horse would be wise to do exactly that. This is one of those “get a group of your twentysomething friends together with a camera and make a horror movie in a week” affairs, although these friends are truly committed to first-time feature filmmaker Justin Steeley’s homemade Bigfoot thriller. While there may not be anything new of monumental note inside “Hunting the Legend,” there is an admirable sincerity giving the film an edge that less focused indie features can never quite capture.
Summarizing the plot won’t take us terribly far into the word count, since the story is a standard setup of searching the forest for signs of Sasquatch after the usual first act of talking heads with townspeople. Random recollections of various Bigfoot encounters bear an air of authenticity as recounted by personable locals, though not one of their stories is the least bit enthralling.
It isn’t the inessential value of their runtime-puffing folktales providing a distraction so much as the choppy editing. Interview segments in “Hunting the Legend” have a bad habit of jumbling up each piece with excessive jump cuts. While I definitely appreciate Steeley condensing exposition as much as possible by tightening the ums, ahs, pauses, and flubs, the cuts occur so frequently that I briefly wondered if the DVD was regularly skipping from a persistent glitch.
Lending a considerable helping hand in putting the tempo back on pace is a featured trio of amateur actors who are genuinely convincing. They are even more impressive when considering that none of them have any notable prior experience and I presume were hired based on friendship with the director. Or at least a willingness to camp in cold, damp, dark woods. They aren’t Denzel Washington good mind you, but these aren’t the kinds of roles requiring performers of that caliber, either.
Almost immediately the trio is drawn up as a smart group since the first things they do together are purchase a shotgun, stock up on rifle ammunition, and rent an attack-trained German Shepherd. Offhand, I can’t recall anyone else in another “found footage” Bigfoot hunt ever taking this level of precaution in case they actually do find what they are looking for. Their wherewithal for preparedness alone puts them leagues above the usual protagonists who instead spend the bulk of their time arguing and getting lost in the trees.
Chris Copeland (who can have a career as Joshua Jackson’s stand-in if he wants), Hannah Wallace, and Jeff Causey do both of those things too, but their personalities are mellow enough to keep them likable even when believably bickering. I can’t be sure what may have been scripted and what may have been improvised, yet of all the various tensions exposed in their relationships, nothing comes off as forcibly dramatic. The three of them work as a charming and competent unit of friends.
For the most part, “Hunting the Legend” is a scrappy independent effort that does more right than it does wrong. Justin Steeley and friends set out to make a simple movie and they do just that without phoning in their contributions. “Hunting the Legend” has little to show for originality or wow factor, but it does have respectable heart from filmmakers wisely avoiding a reach beyond their means.
Which is not to absolve the movie of its problems, as it certainly has them. It needs to be mentioned that the film ends on final scenes that are so chaotic it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on. In addition to the shaky camera and running in the dark madness, everyone is separated, attacked offscreen, and the ambiguity creates more questions than tension. That confusion is compounded by a bizarre audio epilogue that should have been trimmed into a wastebasket instead of appearing in the final cut.
Not helping Steeley’s cause any is that by my count, “Hunting the Legend” is now the fifth “found footage” Bigfoot movie released between 2012 and 2014. Sixth if you include “The Frankenstein Theory” (review here), which is mostly the same thing except with a Great White North snowscape instead of a green forest as its setting.
In deciding how to rate “Hunting the Legend,” I thought of how it stacked against the other four movies that use an identical premise and format. “Willow Creek” (review here) had a touch more personality to its characters, but was a hollow letdown. “Exists” (review here) is the most exhilarating of the pack, although too much so to be believable. “Bigfoot County” (review here) tried a twist with deviant hunters as its big bad, and then fell flat with barely any Sasquatch sightings. As absurd as many others found it to be, if I were forced to choose one of these five to watch a second time, I would probably choose “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes” (review here). “Hunting the Legend” follows right behind, although ideally, I’d prefer to not watch any more “found footage” Bigfoot movies ever again.
Review Score: 60