Doug Woods hosts of cable show Man Vs., in which he must survive for five days in a remote location without access to any of the modern props we take for granted, but for the four cameras with which he records his video diary. We join the team as they’re travelling to north Ontario to begin production on Series Three, but once Woods has been left to his own devices, strange things begin happening and to say any more about them would be to completely spoil the effect of the film.
The first ten minutes are all setup, as we are introduced to Woods’ family and the small team he works with, and it’s this section that’s the least effective, as it, slightly stilted way tries to demonstrate how well everybody gets on. But once he’s alone in the wild, Woods’ story quickly becomes highly absorbing.
Chris Diamantopoulos, as Woods, has to carry 90% of the film entirely unaided, and fortunately he’s an excellent choice. Not overly “charismatic”, in a way that might become grating, his emotional reactions feel genuine and you can easily imagine him hosting a cable reality show, with exactly the kind of over-acting you’d get “on camera”. We get to see the unedited footage, though, with Woods’ far more natural reactions to the circumstances into which he’s allowed himself to be placed. His real response to a rain shower on the second evening, having already filmed his professional reaction, is priceless.
Man Vs. isn’t, in spite of its conceit, a found footage film. Yes, we do get to see plenty of Woods’ video diary, but this adds up to only a fraction of the whole and the rest of the film is beautifully shot and non-diegetic. Director Adam Massey evidently knows the pitfalls of the genre and steadfastly refuses to fall into them, instead using the video diary footage to clue the watching audience in to certain things that Woods won’t discover until later. It’s intelligently told, for reasons that can’t be gone into without spoiling its destination, managing to avoid most of the clichés of its premise, while simultaneously embracing them. And Massey is clever enough not to allow any of the set pieces to outstay their welcome, with a clear and sharp focus on the elements that will prove important as the drama unfolds. There’s one shock involving a particular prop that only works as well as it does for having been foreshadowed earlier on.
With an ending that both forces a rethink of the events of the previous 80 minutes as well as potentially paving the way for a (very different) sequel, Man Vs. is a modest but very effective thriller.
MAN VS. / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ADAM MASSEY / SCREENPLAY: THOMAS MICHAEL, STORY: ADAM MASSEY / STARRING: CHRIS DIAMANTOPOULOS, CHLOE BRADT, MICHAEL CRAM, DREW NELSON, KATE ZIEGLER, ALEX KARZIS / RELEASE DATE: 28TH MARCH