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The Wild Man of the Navidad (2008)

IFC Films
DVD Released: 8/11/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/18/2009

I think that humans will always have an interest in the unknown. While many of us are comfortable with our everyday lives, we can't shake the feeling that there may be something else out there which we can't explain. For some reason, this kind of thought really came to a head in the 1970s, and as I was growing up, I was bombarded with movies, TV shows, and books about UFOs, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, and other unexplained activities. There was even a "non-fiction" show, In Search Of..., which took a clinical look at these ideas. In the 90s, this kind of thinking was re-visited with The X-Files. Clearly, young filmmakers Duane Graves and Justin Meeks were influenced by all of this, as they bring us their feature film debut, The Wild Man of the Navidad.

While Navidad may sound like a foreign word, it refers to an area of Texas. The story takes place in a small town in this area, in a time period which appears to be the 1970s or 80s at the latest. Here we meet Dale S. Rogers (Justin Meeks), a sad man who leads a sad life. He leaves with his wheelchair-bound Wife, Jean (Stacy Meeks), and Mario (Alex Garcia), a man who is supposed to take care of Jean, but often molests her. When Dale loses his job as a welder, he's not sure what he can do to make money. As hunting season has just started, Dale decides to allow hunters to come onto his land for a fee. Mario is against this idea, but Dale is desperate for money. It seems that they are both aware that some sort of creature dwells on those lands near the river bottom. In fact, Dale and Mario offer nightly offerings to it. When people begin to disappear in the area, Dale isn't sure what to do.

Meeks and Graves have stated that they wanted to make a movie which had the feel of something which one would have found in the video store in the 1980s, and in that, they have succeeded. If you've ever seen any movies like The Legend of Boggy Creek, which focused on a supposed Bigfoot case, then you'll immediately recognize the quasi-documentary feel of the movie, which is mixed with down-home drama and horror. The overall look of the movie, from the slightly washed-out colors to the fonts of the opening credits, if you were to simply show this movie to a group of horror fans, most wouldn't believe that this was a modern-day movie.

The movie was co-produced by Kim Henkel, who once upon a time worked with Tobe Hooper and co-wrote the southern-friend classics, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive. Henkel was also the film school professor for Meeks and Graves. This bit of trivia is interesting as The Wild Man of the Navidad certainly has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe. The movie shows the seemingly normal lives of people who live in rural America, but along with that, we get to see the seedy underbelly, such as Mario's sexual deviance, or the fact that Dale is hiding a killer on his land. This gives the movie an overall creepy feel, and one doesn't feel very clean when they walk away from it.

The Wild Man of the Navidad is clearly a home-grown, low-budget affair and Graves and Meeks have certainly put a lot of work into it. Unfortunately, they miss the mark, and for once, all of the blame can't be placed on the budget. The use of too many non-actors to get that "local color" feel definitely hurts the film. A few shots of hillbillies making insulting or racists remarks is one thing, but as the film progresses, I got the feeling that the already brief 86-minute running time was being padded with scene after scene of people in the local bar. This padding is no doubt used to hide the lack of a complete story. The idea of Dale having to lease out his land for money, despite the fact that he knows that it's dangerous, is a great one. But, the movie never goes much further. By the end of the film, none of the questions which you may have will be answered. The look of the Wild Man is good -- I really like the use of the antlers -- but again, we need to know more. The movie seems to end at a natural stopping point, but many blanks weren't filled in. This is a promising debut as far as the look and feel of the film, but Meeks and Graves need to work on their storytelling skills.

The Wild Man of the Navidad hates hunters on DVD courtesy of IFC Films. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Keeping in mind that the filmmakers were going for a certain antiquated look, the image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. However, it is noticeably grainy, and the colors are slightly washed out. The image is sometimes too bright and at others, too dark, depending on the situation. The DVD carries a Dolby 2.0 stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike many tracks of this sort, this shows off a good mix and the stereo effects are not only noticeable, but effective in the scenes where the Wild Man attacks.

The Wild Man of the Navidad DVD contains many extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors Meeks and Graves. This is a very detailed and scene-specific talk, as the two give us an ample amount of information about filming locations, who the local actors are, what family heirlooms were used, and what influenced the story. "Director Meet and Greet" (3 minutes) has the two filmmakers introduce themselves and talk about how the film came together. "Behind the Screams" (4 minutes) continues the interview where the Directors give more detail about the movie and how they work together. "Pre-Production Footage" (4 minutes) is essentially rehearsals shot in a backyard, followed by a look at the locations and the Wild Man costume. "The Hypostatic Union" (3 minutes) is one of Meeks and Graves short films. "Character Study" (19 minutes) is a sort of "making of" combined with comments from the locals who were in the film who talk about how they answered ads to be in the film. The filmmakers then show us some of the locations and talk about the true story upon which it's based. The final extra is the TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long