The classic bear bait and switch. Just when you think you’re getting a giant mythical polar bear saga, you end up with a giant marauding hybrid polar bear/wolf saga, where corrupt scientists’ sinister efforts to ‘improve’ endangered species appear to be backfiring. What remains solid is the familiar trope of city arseholes turning up in a pristine wilderness, treating their environment and its locals with (racist) disdain, before ending up being the meat in a monster movie.
The film itself appears to be suffering from an identity crisis, sold on streaming channels with some survival movie puff about a mythical polar bear under the name MANEATER, but lingering on IMDb under the title UNNATURAL with a monster movie plot synopsis focused much more heavily on a sci-fi-freak escaping from a remote research facility. Sadly, the sci-fi elements never really amount to anything (unlike the smart sharks in DEEP BLUE SEA, the folks here are in no more danger than say, the entire black book cast of INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE…), which probably explains the downgrading of the film’s ambitions on streaming channels in pursuit of an audience with lower expectations.
Whichever sub-genre pronoun the film prefers, the insufferable city-folk are written so broadly, it’s almost enough to put you off from the get-go (including such eye-rolling jerk-waddery as stepping straight from the plane onto the snow and asking about cell coverage…). But hang around long enough and there’s an old-fashioned, CGI-free shaggy monster story here with practical creature contributions from some of the guy’s behind some of the ALIEN and TREMORS movies (Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.). Which is normally a great thing.
But like the title, the monster arrives stuffed out of shape. There’s a first aquatic kill from under the ice which is never explained and, by the time we’ve got a glimpse of the creature, seems frankly beyond the poor old dear. As with many fur-clad effects from the discount end of the aisle, this one ends up a little too NEVERENDING STORY, its overall lack of physical and facial agility undermining the idea of an inescapable threat as it lumbers along, all stiff-limbed in the shadows.
In a bunch of thinly written roles, James Remar (who has a voice you might recognise emanating from your games console…) gives good stoic as the lodge owner trying to hold everything together, and Sherilyn Fenn (about whom my favourite factoid is her aunt Suzi Quatro, but you’ll know her best from TWIN PEAKS…) gets to play the mysterious scientist who comes in from the cold.
All the other women and anyone playing an Indigenous local – including the always dependable Graham Greene (who seemingly hasn’t stopped working since the 1980s) and Q’orianka Kilcher, (previously Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD) – simply get put through the meat grinder… If you’re a Ray Wise fan, you’d be better off YouTubing his scenes, as he’s barely in it…
In brief: The classic bear bait & switch, a monster slash survival movie suffering a hormone-induced identity crisis.
Strapline: “Some things were never meant to be.”
Streamed late at night from Amazon Prime Video, 12 January 2021.