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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Chupacabra Territory  (2017)
½ Star
Directed by Matt McWilliams.
Cast: Sarah Nicklin, Michael Reed, Alex Hayek, Bryant Jansen, Julianne Tura, Megan Hensley, Donnie Brinker, Elliot Book, Pierre Kennel, Mike Wood.
2017 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for graphic brutal violence and for strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, April 5, 2017.
Found-footage horror became a subgenre unto itself following the enormous acclaim and box-office success of 1999's chilling groundbreaker "The Blair Witch Project," directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Eighteen years later, it is vital a filmmaker daring to delve into this overworn style of storytelling find a fresh angle from which to tackle it. Otherwise, the results too often resemble "Chupacabra Territory," arguably one of the worst and most obnoxious of the "Blair Witch" imitators. Writer-director Matt McWilliams is shameless in how derivative he makes his every narrative beat. A group heading into the woods to investigate a local legend? Check. A harbinger who warns them of the lurking danger? Check. An intrepid, know-it-all female leader who might as well have "Heather Donahue wannabe" stamped on her forehead? Check. Shaky chases through darkened underbrush? Check. Tearful last rites and apologies to the camera as it becomes likely they won't be making it out alive? Check, save for the crying part; these actors simply aren't very convincing and specialize in tears of the crocodile variety.

While the three protagonists at the center of "The Blair Witch Project" were student filmmakers who appeared to be fairly serious about digging into the history and lore of the Blair Witch, the ragtag group here—purported cryptozoologist Amber (Sarah Nicklin), best guy friend Joe (Michael Reed), skeptic of the group Morgan (Alex Hayek), and cameraman Dave (Bryant Jansen)—resemble nothing more than foolish troublemakers who enter the North Pinewood Forest to search for the notorious Chupacabra as a motive-free lark. They do not seem particularly interested in digging into the legend, but their eyes and ears perk up whenever they stumble upon disemboweled, castrated animal carcasses. When they run into a trio of fellow hikers searching for their missing friend, they do not waste a moment inviting them to come party at their campsite. And, when Amber witnesses with her own eyes a creature with glowing red eyes chasing her, does she decide to pack up her belongings and haul out? No. This quartet of rocket scientists never appear to be lost in the woods, but they stay put in the wilderness all the same even as the evidence escalates as to the imminent danger surrounding them.

Fictional cinéma vérité requires an air of realism above all else. Without that, the crucial spell dies on the vine. "Chupacabra Territory" fails entirely on this level, and others as well. Occasional camera angles are illogical for found-footage material. Performances are unctuous, trying too hard to emulate what the actors have seen from past films of this sort. Characters are unsympathetic and irritating, doing all the wrong things at all times. The plot, as straightforward as it is, still manages to lose its way in a mucky possession subplot and superfluous sidetracks (a scene where a character pulls a prank and pretends to be dead is solely on hand to provide exploitative nudity). There is no tension built and zero scares achieved as the title legend makes itself known because every single beat is so exceedingly familiar and uninspired. The only thing director Matt McWilliams is successful at is in making the viewer count the minutes until everyone onscreen is dead, and this seems to be inadvertent. Those who dare sit through the entirety of "Chupacabra Territory" right before bedtime can be assured of one thing: a deep, restful sleep.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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