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Entries in More Than Myth [2009] (1)

Tuesday
Feb222011

More Than Myth (2009) Short Film Review

Trailing Off

This is shaping up to be the week of short films!  My good friend Chad lent me a copy of Levi IsaacsMore Than Myth, a story of three friends wandering the woods in search of Bigfoot.  Like the Polish film Dym, this movie was made by a young filmmaker with a lot of promise and a passion that’s evident in every frame; even more compelling is the fact that Isaacs was only about fifteen years old when he made his 34-minute monster movie.

But in reviewing the film, it’s important to leave that fact aside.  I have to; because as impressive as this effort is, More Than Myth half works and half doesn’t—which is to say it doesn’t really work.  On one hand, it’s easy to think, “Wow!  This was made by a fifteen-year-old kid!”  On the other, there are long stretches where it’s clear this was made by a fifteen-year-old kid.

The movie begins with Alex (Andrew Bucher) walking in a forest preserve.  He hears some rustling in the woods but doesn’t stop to investigate; a couple minutes later, he meets a park ranger named Robert (Pat McMartin), and describes the disturbance as a “howling, screaming noise.”  Robert asks Alex if he knows about the Bigfoot legend or the tragedy that befell a group of young teens a few months earlier.  Alex admits that he doesn’t, and sits down for a long chat with the ranger that serves almost as bookends to the main story.

In flashback, we see a kid named Danny (Evan Jaegar) walking to his friends’ houses to see if they want to go camping.  Brandon (Nick Norman) and Justin (writer/director Isaacs) agree, and they get Justin’s dad (Eric Isaacs) to drive them to the forest preserve.  I haven’t gone camping in awhile, but I recall needing a good deal of equipment, such as a backpack, sleeping bag, food, and a tent.  The boys drive out to the woods in a truck that very clearly has nothing substantial in the back of it; yet somehow there’s a giant tent on the forest floor a few minutes later.  It’s weird, but I guess time and space act differently in the woods of Washington State.

Dad drops these three fifteen-year-old boys off in the woods (!) and heads back home.  A few minutes later, Danny, Brandon and Justin sit at a picnic table, bored out of their minds.  Brandon decides to take a walk in the woods by himself; shortly thereafter, the other two follow suit and the group runs afoul of the legendary Sasquatch, a gargantuan ape-thing with a pig-snout and sharp teeth.  It chases them and eventually hurls Brandon (actually, a comical dummy of Brandon) off a cliff and then retreats into the woods.  Danny and Justin race back to civilization, where they encounter Ranger Robert and tell him the whole story.

They must have been very thorough, because Robert’s re-telling to Alex includes a lot of information that no one could have known unless they were present for the events of that day—such as Justin impressing Brandon with new skateboarding tricks before Danny showed up.  Once again, I digress…

Alex sets out to find the two survivors, and he runs into them at Brandon’s gravesite.  He insists that Danny and Justin return to the woods and climb to the very top of the mountain they’d been ascending before the attack.  Justin mumbles, “You didn’t know Brandon.”  Which is an excellent point, and a gaping hole that the movie never explores: Why do Danny and Justin agree to go back to the stomping grounds of a maniacal beast on the advice of a stranger they’d literally just met?  And from what little I saw of Brandon, the last thing he likely would’ve wanted was for his friends to end up at the bottom of a rocky gulch; I suspect he would’ve had his friends invite Alex to go fuck himself and then run home for a Cheetohs-and-X-Box marathon.

The three go back to the site of Brandon’s demise, and Danny and Justin plant a makeshift cross at the top of the cliff.  Then they leave, and we glimpse Bigfoot watching them from the bushes.  That’s the end of the movie.

I give Levi Isaacs a lot of credit not only for putting this film together, but for capturing the lushness of his forest setting and its inherent creepiness through great camerawork and an eerie score, which he also composed.  But this aesthetic polish can’t overcome the indecisive tone, poor acting and nonsensical script that make up the meat of More Than Myth.

Let’s start with the actors.  I imagine that since he cast himself in the film, Isaacs set the tone for the other performers—at least the teenage ones; which might explain why everyone wanders around with heavy-lidded disinterest and delivers their lines with a monotone that was really hard to take at 4:30 in the morning (my golden hour for watching films).  Even during the allegedly intense scenes, where Brandon tells his friends about the monster, Nick Norman has the disposition of a stoner who was just addressed personally by Barney Rubble, rather than a truly freaked out kid.  It doesn’t matter whether the performances are an honest representation of the actors’ personalities; protagonists are supposed to be moving—at the very least, they should move.  I got the distinct feeling that had Bigfoot decapitated any of the three boys, the last thought crossing their minds as they hurdled into the air would’ve been, “Whatever.”

The Alex and Robert characters are slightly more compelling, probably because their scenes exist largely outside the Isaacs Charisma Vortex.  Still, their rapport can best be summed ups as “Drivers-Ed-Film Audition.”

I’ll address the tone and script issues together.  Isaacs appears confused as to whether he’s making a horror movie or Stand By Me.  He makes wonderful decisions when depicting the monster: Even when standing in full view, it appears to be a hairy shadow—as if the legendarily fuzzy pictures of Sasquatch weren’t fuzzy at all, but a fair representation of this otherworldly Thing.  On the flipside, we have three friends who go out to the woods for no discernable reason (they didn’t so much set out to find Bigfoot as trip over him), and wind up coming of age in the wake of a tragedy.  The problem—going back to the acting—is that we don’t learn enough about these boys to know if they’ve even been affected by their friend’s death.  They go from sullen, mumbling campers to sullen, mumbling mourners; you could jumble the scenes in this film and not be able to tell which took place before or after Brandon left the picture.

Had Isaacs cut his film down to fifteen minutes, eliminating the bookends, the Alex character, and what I estimate to be about seven minutes of people walking through a forest preserve—and had he clearly stated the movie’s intent—More Than Myth could have been more than mediocre.

That’s some harsh shit to lay on a fifteen-year-old auteur.  But I’m taking the time to lay all this out because I think Levi Isaacs has a bright future as a filmmaker.  He’s got the technique down; now all he has to do is collaborate with a gifted storyteller for whatever he follows this up with.  I’ve reviewed movies by top directors and complete unknowns; what unites them all and separates the talented from the paycheck hacks is solid, relatable storytelling.  A single botched detail, no matter how small, can pull an audience’s focus away from the bigger picture.  And as a member of the Amateur Filmmaker Generation, Isaacs owes it to himself to apply passion and brains to every facet of his art; doing so will make him a giant among ants.