STOMPING GROUND

Stomping Ground caught my attention a year ago when I happened to come across the trailer for it; sporting a presentation that led me to believe it was a film filled with dark, intense, and genuinely terrifying moments - appropriate for a horror movie about the legendary Bigfoot. Since then I had gone on a media blackout for the film, letting the energy of that trailer fuel my excitement and anticipation for my first viewing of it. Fast forward to 2016 and with it, my chance to review the film. Was this going to be THE quintessential Bigfoot movie? Was my long building hype going to be justified? Well...it turns out the answer to those questions isn't as simple as a "yes" or "no", but we'll get to that in a bit.

If, like me, you've kept yourself in the dark with regards to what 'Stomping Ground' is actually about, and perhaps the trailer is all you have to go on, let me potentially deflate your balloon a little bit. This isn't the dark, intense, and terrifying horror film about Bigfoot you may have been lead to believe it was. In fact [SPOILER ALERT] it really isn't about Bigfoot at all. Guess what though, it's all the better for it!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the story.

New couple Ben and Annie head to North Carolina for a weekend getaway to visit Annie's family and old stomping grounds (heh). Ben, being the city boy that he is, begins to feel like the fifth wheel - a bit out of his element - when they come across Annie's old friends and along with that, stories about her past that brings him to the realization that perhaps he doesn't know his girlfriend as well he thought he did. Things get further complicated when Paul, (Annie's old flame) has the bright idea that to go Bigfoot hunting like he and Annie used to. Out in the middle of the woods away from any kind of buffer or distraction, increasing tension between the group as well as the looming threat of a myth come true, puts not only their relationship in jeopardy, but their lives as well.

I love films that only happen to land in a genre due to background circumstances, yet focus on a main theme; one that happens to be complimented and enhanced by said circumstances. That's what Stomping Ground is. A comedy/drama about relationship growing pains that happens to take place against the setting of a Bigfoot expedition. Every horror element of the film, including deaths, mainly serve as various relationship trials for Ben and Annie to overcome, and actors John Bobek and Tarah DeSpain, do a phenomenal job selling us on all of it. 

You really get a sense of the discomfort John's character "Ben" feels when being introduced to Annie's friends and old lifestyle. Doubly so when he tries his best to fit in, only to crash and burn while watching Annie get a little too familiar with her male chums. This works for us, the viewer, in two ways. First, you really begin to sympathize (or depending on your own experiences, empathize) with Ben's situation. Second, you believe the conflict that occurs later in the film, when the group are out and away from civilization and the shit hits the fan. The explosive boiling point is an inevitability, and how each character handles that moment, defines their fate for better or worse. 

But let us not forget this is still technically a horror film, and while Bigfoot and the expedition surrounding his mythos serve more as a catalyst for the events that would be the film's true focus, the elusively villainous fur-ball does step out of the shadows to cause some havoc. Unfortunately for horror fans, the actual horror elements of 'Stomping Ground' are it's weakest link. Maybe it's the budget, or the goofy Bigfoot sequences, or the awkward humor that comes as a results of the two; regardless, even if intentional, I found it took away from the film more than it added to it. And while yes, there is a comedic tone ever present in the film, it feels much more appropriate given the context and situations it permeates through. Perhaps given the budget and constraints, it may have been more effective to continue the less-is-more approach the film takes early on.

While it may seem like a horror movie in which it's weakest attributes are the horror elements automatically means a skip, let me tell you, it really doesn't. It bears repeating that 'Stomping Ground' is a comedy/drama that so happens to be a horror film, not the other way around; and as such, it completely knocks it out of the park in that regard. Sure, it may be less 'Willow Creek' and more 'Sweet Home Alabama', but that doesn't change the fact we still highly recommend 'Stomping Ground', yes, even for horror fans.

Join the hunt for true love (and Bigfoot) March 8th on DVD and VOD