Friday, June 22, 2012

Bear: It's about a bear

Perhaps my artistically inclined readers can enlighten me as to why so may paintings and sculptures are titled “Untitled.” It seems dreadfully lazy and worse, evidence that the artist didn’t actually know WHAT they were making. Calling a blank canvas with a dot of scribble something like “The War Between the Sexes” is of course quite pretentious, but doesn’t it seem incomplete to not call it SOMETHING?

I ask this question because a) I’ve always wanted to know the answer and b) I just watched a movie about a killer bear called, plain and simple, Bear. I almost wonder if the movie was written, filmed, and sold with the title “Untitled Bear Horror Movie” until someone in the art department charged with making a poster finally asked the question “Hey! Do we have a title for this thing?” The room got very quiet. Thankfully, it was Bring Your Daughter To Work Day. The graphic designer looked around for help, stumped until his 18 month old (who was just learning how to talk while playing with her Care Bear figurines) pointed to the working image and said so cutely “bear.”

And thusly Bear was titled...Bear.

Quick Plot: Brothers Nick and Sam are driving to an anniversary dinner for their parents with their ladies in tow. Oldest Sam is a smarmy yuppie type with bland wife Liz, while Nick is a rock star wannabe/recovering alcoholic early on in his relationship with the annoyingly free-spirited Christine. When their mini-van (it’s okay to laugh) breaks down just off the main highway, they meet a big ol’ grizzly bear mama and promptly shoot her dead.

Don’t you love these people?

Before you can get through one verse of “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” grizzly mama’s old man is on the hunt. He’s bigger, meaner, smarter, and apparently, way more conniving than his late missus.

And he wants vengeance.

Bear is a very odd film in its construction. Rather than going the Grizzly Park tear-the-pretty-people-up route, it focuses tightly on its two couples and the never-quite-in-the-same-shot bear (who I’m just going to go ahead and name Charles Bronson for his revenge obsession). Our first kill comes well into the film, and perhaps because director John Rebel had what I imagine were limited monetary resources, it never really tries to make you think “yup, it would sure hurt getting mauled by a bear!” I *think* what it actually goes for is a “No! Not that character that I now know so much about!” effect instead.

In case that last paragraph didn’t give it away, I’m having an awfully hard time trying to figure out how to discuss Bear. Unlike the awful but enjoyable Grizzly Park, there’s nothing the least bit fun about this film. We’re given four characters who bicker obnoxiously, none with any real charm to make us root for their survival. At the same time, I have to appreciate the effort. The script (by Roel Reine and House’s Ethan Wiley) certainly TRIES to make Sam, Nick, LIz, and Christine into real, breathing detailed human beings. Considering my complaints about movies like The Darkest Hour (which assumes that just because they’re onscreen, we automatically care about the cast members), I do think Bear puts the right priority into crafting its characters, all of whom are capably played by their young actors. The problem though is that...well...they’re still kind of a drag.

For the first 45 minutes or so, we just get to hear Nick and Sam rehash old arguments about their differences in life. These are the kind of brothers who have discussions about how music isn’t a viable career and that’s why you’re not the favorite son! Then Liz and Christine bond over their own unhappiness with the kind of magical liquor bottle that makes you instantly drunk. It’s not the worst writing put forth in a direct-to-Netflix horror movie, but at the same time, there’s nothing overly clever or inspiring about it. I have no reason to care.

Well, I SAY that but then...well...then the bear has a flashback to the moment that played 10 minutes earlier where Sam shot his girlfriend dead, and suddenly, Bear becomes the greatest movie of all time. But then I realize there even though our titular grizzly howls with true pain, there’s no winking subtitle to translate the howl into “Nooooooooooooooooo” and I realize the film isn’t as smart as I hoped.

On the other hand, Bear is technically put together in a fairly impressive manner. Credit goes to young director Rebel and editor Herman P. Koerts for not making me realize until well after the film finished that no actor is ever ACTUALLY in the same frame as Charles Bronson. While the film never really inspires any true fear, it by no means embarrasses itself in how it uses a real-life grizzly stalking its young cast. Animals attack genre fans may at least find it a new twist on the old Cujo tale. That being said, I’d be remiss in my duties to not complain about some of the more contrived elements of the script, namely:


As things are looking dimmer and dimmer for our young leads, Bear finds irresponsible rock star brother sitting alone with his stiffer WASPy sister-in-law for what turns into a rather inane downward spiral of third act revelations. Liz slept with Nick! And Sam is in financial trouble! And might go to jail for embezzlement! Bring Sam back into the van (because after he ran to get help, Charles Bronson dragged him back to die with his companions because bears are the reincarnation of Native American shamans or something something) primarily so Liz can tell both men that SHE’S PREGNANT! Which is crazy because she hasn’t had sex with her husband in five months BUT she had sex with Nick in two so HE’S THE FATHER! And of course, in the rationalizations of these characters, the entire reason the bear is hunting them with such ferocity is because they were all unhappy with their lives and nothing says new start like being psychologically tortured and maybe physically eaten by a grizzly bear.

Look, I think it’s great that a tiny li’l nature gone wild flick wanted to try its hand at Bergman-like character drama. But ultimately, having the last 20 minutes of an 80 minute bear attack film turn into Days of Our Lives (minus the possession) is sort of the equivalent of ordering a hot dog from a $1 cart for a quick bite only to then wait an hour while the vendor shows off his origami skills with the bun. It just misses the point.

High Notes
It’s always a pleasure when the most annoying character gets eaten first

Low Notes
I understand that it’s nighttime and bears don’t have track lighting, but it’s still nice for the audience to see what’s actually going on most of the time

Lessons Learned
Pregnant also means ‘with child,’ or ‘in the family way’

Unlike rock ‘n roll stars, real people don’t bed someone new every night

As I recently pointed out with Basic Instinct 2, having a character smoke in a no-smoking zone doesn’t make her a rebel; it makes her disrespectful and obnoxious

Bear is not what you would traditionally call a good movie, but it does manage to rise above its natural limitations. The cast isn’t quite memorable, but they service the clumsy writing with all their hearts and newbie director John Rebel makes the best out of some fairly terrible material. I only recommend it as an Instant Watch stream when you really need a bear fix and feel like seeing an incredibly inconsistent attempt. It’s not satisfying in the least, but it’s strange and capable enough of a film to warrant some of your time. I’d prefer an origami swan hot dog bun, but sometimes you just have to compromise.

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