Man-Thing (2005) – Directed by Brett Leonard – Starring Matthew Le Nevez, Rachael Taylor, Jack Thompson, Rawiri Paratene, Alex O’Loughlin, Steve Bastoni, and Conan Stevens.
Yup, this movie exists.
What’s really surprising about MAN-THING, however, isn’t that it exists, but that’s there’s decent talent involved. The director, Brett Leonard, is also the guy who directed Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, Alex O’Loughlin (credited here as Alex O’Lachlan, his real name), star of Hawaii Five-O and Moonlight has a secondary role as a deputy sheriff, and Rachael Taylor, who had a minor role in a very successful movie (Transformers) and a major role in a very unsuccessful TV show (Charlie’s Angels).
If MAN-THING were made now with O’Loughlin and Taylor, they’d be out front, but since this was made when they were both starting out, it’s Matthew Le Nevez who’s out front, appearing in nearly every scene of the movie. Le Nevez is definitely a better actor than you might expect to find in a low-budget horror movie, but he’s not so much better that he can carry the film. I’m not familiar with Le Nevez but based on his resume he seems to be one of those actors that’s caught between movies and TV shows. Which is fitting, because according to the Never Wrong, the film was originally intended to be a direct-to-video release, then they decided to give it a theatrical release, then they changed their minds domestically, while still giving it an international release. When Americans finally got to see it, it was on the Sci Fi channel back when their name was short for “Science Fiction” and not “Syphilis.”
What I genuinely like about MAN-THING is that it represents an attempt at making a serious movie; this isn’t one of those low-budget monster movies that’s played for laughs or for campiness. What I dislike about it, however, is that it’s serious without being engaging, and the result is a slow-moving, predictable, grind-it-out film that’s perhaps better than it needs to be, and thus not good enough than I want it to be. It’s a shame because I’m always banging the drum for diversity of story in superhero movies and it would have been nice for Marvel to be able to show off that they could take one of their minor characters and build a successful horror movie around him. The result isn’t very scary, though, nor very good.
And really, MAN-THING’s biggest crime isn’t its predictability, but its dullness.
Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) is the new sheriff in a Louisiana swamp town. There’s been lots of disappearances and murders, including the previous sheriff, and now we’ve got that unwelcome outsider story who will take a fresh look at the strange goings-on in Bywater, Louisiana. (That’s actually the funniest line of the movie. When he’s in a boat with one of the locals, Kyle asks, “Why do they call it Bywater?” to which the single-toothed local says, “Because it’s by the water,” as if it were obvious. Which it really was.) Kyle quickly discovers there’s two problems in town, and we all know they’re related: all the missing persons/murders and the conflict between the oil company who are drilling the swamp and the tribal advocates who claim the land is sacred. There’s a missing tribal leader, who allegedly took off with all the money the oil company paid him for right to drill on the land, and a mysterious Yul Brynner cosplayer walking around in the swamp who’s allegedly the killer.
The movie changes much of the comic book origin (no super soldier serum), but it also names characters after Mike Ploog, Steve Gerber, and Val Mayerik, so there’s something here to both annoy and reward those who watch these movies for how closely they relate to the comics.
MAN-THING employs an environmental vs. corporation struggle, but it really doesn’t play a huge role in the film because the corporation is just a bunch of shifty redneck bad guys who wear a company logo that’s clearly supposed to remind us of the Nazi swastika for some reason, and the local Indian tribe, even though the tribe doesn’t really play a role in the film. Pete Horn (Rawiri Paratene) is the one tribal character in the film and he’s a spiritual leader who knows that there’s bad things in the swamp in the form of an ancient tribal guardian, but the Man-Thing kills him, too, because why the hell not, right?.
Really, MAN-THING is about a killer (Man-Thing) who we rarely see in full, killing everyone who comes into the swamp. The solution to this problem might seem rather easy to you and I – stay out of the swamp – but the Sheriff can’t do this when he’s got murders on his hand, although it’s not like anyone in town seems to care that there’s dead people or missing people. In the opening sequence, we see two kids at a party run off to get naked and screw in the swamp. The boy dies and the girl becomes traumatized, but Kyle only visits the girl once in the hospital and she’s all gone crazy. When the Sheriff shows up at the diner for the requisite “meet the locals” scene, we do, in fact, meet the bulk of the players in our drama, but there’s no sense that, “Hey, alright, here’s the new sheriff to stop all these killings.” Everyone in town seems cool with the fact that they’re happening, or that nothing’s being done about it. Maybe these locals have it right – the only thing you need to do is … say it with me … stay out of the swamp.
From the moment Kyle meets Teri Richards (Rachael Taylor) you know this is going to be the love angle, but then they don’t really do anything with it, and then later on they start making out like … well, like they’re young kids out in the swamp looking for some action. What’s hilarious about this moment isn’t that the lead up to the make out session is way, way, way underdeveloped (that’s just bad storytelling), but that when the oil company head (who is much more of the local tough guy variety instead of J.R. Ewing – we’re not talking about a major corporation here) rolls up on them and catches them in the act, both Kyle and Teri start buttoning up their half-unbuttoned shirts.
They were out in the open, making out for five seconds, yet each of them managed to end up looking like they were a half-second away from stripping down and going at it right outside of Pete Horn’s place.
The Man-Thing costume/CGI bit is weak, but that’s to be expected, and I don’t really hold that against the film – if the story is strong enough, any kind of monster will be fine. Instead of doing the comic book thing and making those who “know fear” burn at his touch, this Man-Thing just indiscriminately kills whomever walks around his swamp. As I mentioned above, this is a dull movie, so there’s nothing unexpected like all of the various human enemies having to team up to defeat it. Things happen, people die, Man-Thing gets blowed up, The End.
Despite the gratuitous boob scene at the start, MAN-THING isn’t a cheeseball SyFy or Asylum film with really bad acting and really cheap CGI and really campy stories. And that’s kinda too bad. I appreciate that MAN-THING is an attempt to mostly tell a solid (if predictable) horror story, but the film would have been well-served with a little something else added to the mix, even if that something else was to not take itself so seriously. If you are going to take yourself seriously, you’ve got to deliver a much better story than MAN-THING offers up. I would love to be able to tell you that MAN-THING was a real surprise and that you should add this horror movie into your superhero collection, but it’s just good enough to be anything more than a movie I need to see more than once.