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STOMPING GROUND (review)

Review by Dean Galanis
Produced by Brad Lavery, Mike De Trana, Dan Riesser
Written by Dan Riesser & Andrew Genser
Directed by Dan Riesser
Starring John Bobek, Tarah DeSpain, Jeramy Blackford,
Justin Giddings, Theresa Tilly, Michael Lee Kimel

Director/co-writer Dan Riesser’s fun Bigfoot flick is surprisingly enjoyable, especially considering the big guy doesn’t make an appearance until the film is nearly over!

Billed (not inaccurately) as a horror/comedy, Stomping Ground follows a young couple, Ben and Annie, to Annie’s hometown in the rural South for Thanksgiving with her mom.

Ben, born and raised in Chicago, already feels out of place in this setting. His insecurity is greatly exacerbated by the entrance of Annie’s old friend, Paul, who obviously stills holds a torch for Annie and never misses an opportunity to dig at Ben the city slicker or to tell stories of Annie’s wilder days, of which Ben had no knowledge.

It’s also revealed that Annie and Paul (with friend Jed) would go on excursions in the nearby woods to search for Bigfoot. Ben is incredulous that his girlfriend actually believes in the beast, but reluctantly agrees to go with the three into the woods for old times’ sake the next (badly hungover) morning.

Most of the running time is spent with the four hiking in the woods, finding apparent clues (footprints, etc), talking with supposed witnesses, and camping out. It quickly becomes badly clear to Ben that Paul plans to steal Annie from Ben, playing up the idea that she and Ben have nothing in common and that she belongs in her hometown, not some damned metropolis up North.

Meanwhile, it would seem that there is something out there, whether it’s actually Bigfoot or not is unclear…

What may sound tedious is actually fast-paced and amusing.

Happily, this isn’t a spoof or jokefest full of weak one-liners. The comedy mostly comes from poking fun at stereotypes, both Northern and Southern. Jed, who looks and sounds like a true redneck, knowingly subverts Ben’s (and likely many viewers’) expectations. And the locals underestimate Ben’ strength, even while in surroundings uncomfortable to him.

Riesser does two very smart things. The first is that he takes the central conflict seriously. There are many amusing – as well as some laugh-out-loud – putdowns between Paul and Ben, but the stakes – their mutual love for Annie – is played for real. The second is casting. All four leads (and supporting roles as well) are quite good. The acting and repartee is consistently natural.

As Ben, John Bobek (who evokes Alan Tudyk) has an easy charm but doesn’t sugarcoat the moments when Ben acts like an insecure ass. Tarah DeSpain, who bears more than a passing resemblance to fellow Southerner KaDee Strickland, is completely convincing as a former wild gal who’s trying to act like an adult, while Jeremy Blackford and Justin Giddings are just right as two young adults who’d just as soon remain kids.

It’s nice that Bigfoot plays directly into this central conflict as opposed to just being a sidebar, which, considering his limited screen time, it very well could have been. And there is also a very good reason Annie believes in the creature, which we learn late in the film.

The effects and photography are pretty decent for a micro-budget film, the score (lotsa banjo) is fun and effective, and the rural locations are key.

Those looking for a creature-feature rampage are going to be sorely disappointed. But if you’re feeling a tad adventurous, and are aware that this is basically a comedy-drama with horror elements, you could have a good time with Stomping Ground.

Stomping Ground arrives on DVD & VOD March 8th 
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