Grizzly, originally titled Red Machine, which made it sound like a political thriller from the 1980s, is actually a horror/survival thriller in the vein of Jaws, Anaconda, and The Edge. This isn’t exactly a remake of the 1976 film of the same name, but they share a few qualities, namely an attacking 18 foot grizzly bear that is protecting his environment from the ‘bad’ humans breaking the laws of nature. Even with its cheap thrills, on-the-nose dialogue and unoriginal narrative situations, the movie has an earnestness that sneaks up on you to be a surprisingly entertaining time.
Ex-con Rowan (James Marsden) returns to his quiet hometown after serving seven years in prison, to help find an old friend gone missing. His trip isn’t to reconcile with his alienated brother, but rather a business opportunity. The job is to locate a missing man named, Johnny. But, before Rowen has a chance to start his voyage he runs afoul of the local pimp outside of a motel and is arrested for assault. The responding officer on the scene is none other than Rowan’s brother, Beckett (Thomas Jane). Instead of a night in the clink, Beckett allows Rowan to stay at his house for the evening. The two attempt to converse but years of tension and unresolved conflict, mostly over their deceased parents resentment of Rowan’s lifestyle, dictate the uneasy talks.
Meanwhile a rampaging grizzly is killing off people in horrific fashion. The first attack is on a group of poachers for slaughter cubs, the second victims are a crew of illegal tree-loggers. Apparently the grizzly is not only aware of the environmental implications of these individuals but also the fact they are unlikable characters to boot.
So, the local lawman and Rowan’s ex-girlfriend head into the depths of the wilderness in search of a mysterious grizzly terrorizing loggers and hunters. The pair must enter an especially hazardous stretch of forest dubbed the Grizzly Maze in order to find the deputy’s missing, hearing impaired wife (Piper Perabo), and his estranged brother. Aided by an eccentric tracker/hunter (Billy Bob Thorton), the group sets out into the Alaskan sticks, each with ulterior motives. Thornton seems to be channeling Jon Voight’s performance in Anaconda, he is magnetic every-time he appears on the screen, he effortlessly classes up the picture by his line readings. Venerable actor Scott Glenn is also solid in a supporting role, reminding why he has always been an outstanding character actor with leading man looks.
The film’s high point involves some exciting action sequences played against the beautiful mountain scenery, but the story is quick to turn predictable when Thorton’s bear tracker character enters the picture. Director David Hackl comes from the Saw franchise, his entry was a sturdy edition into an already creaky franchise. Here, Hackl shows a gift for staging scenes with mounting tension, whether it be a dramatic or horrific moment. Grizzly won’t wow anyone with ingenuity, but it has a lean efficiency I admired, for what it sets out to achieve, this is a roaring success.
Director: David Hackl
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, James Marsden, Thomas Jane