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cast: Matthew Le Nevez, Rachael Taylor, Jack Thompson, Rawiri Paratene, and Steve Bastoni

director: Brett Leonard

93 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 rental / retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Before ambushing horror audiences with the ultra-gross Feed, exploitation auteur Brett Leonard gave us this miscreant miscegenation, concerning a weird avenger born on the bayou. DC Comics had Swamp Thing (filmed by Wes Craven back in 1982). Marvel tried matching the environmental appeal of 'Swampy' with their green meanie, Man-Thing, originally created in 1974 by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Although, like Swamp Thing, the comic book characterisation of Man-Thing underwent several changes over the years, this movie is based upon Steve Gerber's interpretation, in which the swampland itself is "the nexus of all realities," thus pushing open the door for all manner of sci-fi and supernatural fantasy goings-on. Unfortunately, Gerber's work does not stand up to comparison with the revisionist, and now classic, Alan Moore stint on Swamp Thing. Like Craven's low-budget yet cult-worthy screen adaptation of Swamp Thing, Leonard's Man-Thing is basically a likeable monster movie with a conservationist message, and both films bear notable links to the 1980s' revenge-of-nature cycle that included such downmarket chillers as Frankenheimer's Prophesy. All that's really changed since then is the advent of CGI.

Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) is the new sheriff of Bywater, feisty blonde Teri Elizabeth Richards (Rachael Taylor) is a schoolteacher and troublemaking activist. Pete Horn (Rawiri Paratene) is the local shaman, and the hooded Rene (Steve Bastoni) is a mysterious eco-terrorist suspected of killing the town's previous sheriff. Apart from investigating several missing person cases (the wall display of photos hints at a backstory hardly touched upon in the film) heroic cop Kyle also has to cope with Florida's crazy hicks, like alligator hunting Thibadeaux brothers, Wayne and Rodney (John Batchelor, Ian Bliss) while, presiding over the affairs of others at every opportunity is Frederic Schist (Jack Thompson, turning every evil scowl into an evil smile), a corrupt oil baron with redneck tendencies.

"This is the dark corner of the world, boy... You better keep your lights on."

The film's premise is centred on a patch of land that's sacred to the Indians' tribal culture and, ever since the dishonest Schist invaded the 'dark water' region with damaging machinery, Bywater has been stricken with disappearances and violent deaths. I'm not giving anything important away by telling you that 'Man-Thing' is a spirit guardian unleashed to fight back against the industrial conquest of murky swamps. It's a protean creature of wildly writhing tentacles and glowing red eyes, like one of Tolkien's Ents designed by H.R. Giger. As with the majority of screen monsters, whether derived from comic books or not, Man-Thing is most effective when confined to the shadows or seen only briefly in the beam of a torch. When it stomps around under full moonlight or is caught in the glare of multiple lanterns, all the magic is lost. That said; there's actually plenty of enjoyment to be found in this refreshingly unpretentious romp. Astute director Leonard's visual references jump from Razorback and Southern Comfort to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with unsettling quick-fire montages and squawky audio barrages to match. Man-Thing certainly doesn't stint on appalling graphic imagery and suitably horrifying prosthetic makeup effects' work either, and horribly mutilated corpses abound in this 15-certificate shocker.

Although the final confrontation is predictable and the ultimate fates of brave protagonist, fiendish arch-villain and weird monster alike, are beyond doubt even from the start, Leonard (maker of The Lawnmower Man, and 1995's underrated Hideaway - with Jeff Goldbum, and the same year's cyber thriller Virtuosity - with Denzel Washington) and screenwriter Hans Rodionoff (who also scripted that recent 'headless horseman' flick, The Hollow) manage to bring some telling moments of fascinating intrigue and affecting political commentary to this overly familiar direct-to-disc material, and their efforts occasionally succeed in elevating Man-Thing above most viewers' expectations. This is perhaps best illustrated in a scene where baffled and frustrated sheriff Kyle questions the undoubted wisdom of the all-knowing medicine man Pete about Native American peoples' spiritual roots in the land. The shaman retorts: "It doesn't matter what you believe. You're not from this place´┐Ż You're not from anywhere." Despite the incongruity of casting an obvious New Zealander as a Seminole Indian, Pete's offhand remarks about former city cop Kyle's background could so easily be construed as a pithy observation about the cultural heritage (well, the lack of any!) of all white Americans.

Man-Thing squats rather uneasily amidst the other superhero orientated, comic book derived movies of late, but it will do as passable rental fodder for a while, at least, until Marvel finally decide to release the eagerly anticipated Ghost Rider.

DVD extras: just a few trailers. A documentary on Man-Thing comics would have been welcome, but it seems this film was prepped for DVD hurriedly, leaving no time for creating such potentially worthwhile bonus material.

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