Tuesday, March 8, 2016

STOMPING GROUND (2014): Bigfoot's Alpha Male Boot Camp

DVD cover for "Stomping Ground" (2014)
DVD cover for "Stomping Ground" (2014) - image source: Simply Legendary Publicity


Indie film "Stomping Ground" (2014) is less of a Bigfoot horror flick and more of a thriller in which an urban yuppie dweeb learns how to man up when his girlfriend is about to be stolen away by an ex-boyfriend. Boojum (the name of the local Bigfoot) is his de facto tutor. If only Boojum could also teach this loser how to choose more wisely when he picks a girlfriend . . . .


Background and Credits


"Stomping Ground," an indie film financed in part through crowdfunding campaigns, is billed as an independent horror-comedy. Its director, Dan Riesser, is a former producer of E!'s "The Soup." Riesser co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Genser, a writer-producer for "The Soup." John Bobek, Tarah DeSpain, Jeramy Blackford and Justin Giddings star, with a special appearance by Theresa Tilly ("The Evil Dead," 1981).

The film premiered at the 2014 Dances With Films Festival and went on to screen at several additional film festivals. It won a "Soul of Southern Film" Special Jury Award at the Indie Memphis Film Festival.

Story Summary


John Bobek as Ben and Tarah DeSpain as Annie in "Stomping Ground" (2014)
John Bobek as Ben and Tarah DeSpain as Annie in "Stomping Ground" (2014) - image source: Irrational Films


Ben (Bobek) and Annie (DeSpain) are a young couple from Chicago who take a Thanksgiving vacation trip to visit Annie’s mother (Tilly) in her small North Carolina hometown. At a local bar, they run into Paul (Blackford), who first appears to be a charming old friend of Annie’s. Ben learns something he never knew about his girlfriend: she believes in Bigfoot. In fact, she and her friends used to “hunt” for the creature when they were kids. Before Ben knows it, he’s off on an impromptu Squatchin’ trip deep in the Carolina backwoods, led by Jed (Giddings), another old friend of Annie's and a devoted Bigfoot believer. Amidst the Squatch calls, campfire stories and beers, Ben quickly realizes that Paul may have an ulterior motive in bringing Annie to the woods. And something else out there seems to be after her as well. Everyone but Ben thinks its Bigfoot. But it can’t be, can it? After all, Bigfoot isn’t real.

Commentary


Paul (Jeramy Blackford) is Ben's rival for Annie's affections - image source: Irrational Films

Although it's not the laugh-out-loud type of horror comedy, "Stomping Ground" serves up a tragic sort of comedy in the battle between Ben and Paul over Annie. Jed, whose role is like that of the chorus in classic Greek tragedy, is probably the funniest character, but he also provides a running commentary on the action. Even though he is the most serious Bigfoot believer, he is also the voice of reason in a story about an unreasonable world.

Justin Giddings is Jed in "Stomping Ground" (2014)
Justin Giddings is Jed in "Stomping Ground" (2014) - image source: Irrational Films

Jed's story about the local Bigfoot legend is the core around which this story is built. He explains that Boojum is the name of the creature that haunts the North Carolina woods where the group of four are looking for him. "Boojum" is a nonsense word from Lewis Carroll's* 1874 poem, "The Hunting of the Snark," according to both the earthy Urban Dictionary and the highbrow Oxford Dictionary. Both dictionaries define the term primarily as "an imaginary dangerous animal," which fits its use as a name for Bigfoot. Carroll's allegorical poem states that a Boojum is a "highly dangerous" type of Snark that can make its hunter "softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again." That is certainly Boojum's function in this film.

The four Bigfoot hunters find that Boojum can make humans "vanish away," but not so softly
The four Bigfoot hunters find that Boojum can make humans "vanish away," but not so softly - image source: Irrational Films

A secondary definition also fits the story of "Stomping Ground." In contemporary usage, "boojum" can also mean "girlfriend or boyfriend," according to the Online Slang Dictionary. The story that Jed tells about the local Bigfoot legend casts Boojum as a boyfriend of sorts. In the tale, Boojum loses his human girlfriend, Annie, but never stops looking for her (or her for him). It's not coincidental that the lead female character in "Stomping Ground" is also named Annie.

Ben has a lot to learn about holding on to his girlfriend. Fortunately, Boojum is there to teach him, but only by example. Boojum's intention is to find and reclaim his Annie, not to be a model for alpha maleness. However, entering Boojum's "stomping ground" is a life-or-death adventure for trespassers, who have to learn quickly to be tough and aggressive in order to live to tell about it encountering him.

Ben awkwardly mans up at last
Ben awkwardly mans up at last - image source: Irrational Films

Ben learns that being funny and sensitive might attract some women, but it's not enough to keep their attention over the long term. He also finds that sarcastic remarks and verbal insults aren't always enough to fight off challenges from other men. Although Boojum inadvertently does some of the work for him, Ben eventually realizes that there are times when the fight needs to be physical.

What Ben doesn't seem to fathom is how to decide who is worth fighting to keep. Annie is clearly not the woman that he thought she was when he was dating her in Chicago. Although she gives a good explanation (her history growing up in rural North Carolina) for her behavior, her attitude towards Ben during their Thanksgiving trip to her hometown (where she's brought Ben to show him off to her mother and friends) is bad enough to make many real-world guys dump her.

Here, Boojum is not a good role model, as he is obsessed with getting his Annie back, on any terms and at any cost. But, heck, both Boojum and Ben have only had one girlfriend -- and both of them are rejects from society. Maybe they're a well-matched teacher-student pair after all.

Summary


"Stomping Ground" is a slow-burn Bigfoot horror movie. The first half of its runtime deals with Ben and Annie's relationship and Ben's growing conflict with Paul. However, after Boojum begins to intrude upon this human drama, terror gradually begins to take hold, rising to a satisfying climax as Ben mans up under the influence of Boojum. Any horror fan who has not yet seen this film needs to add it to their viewing experience. It's a good example of indie horror quality.

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 7 out of 10 stars

Brink Vision is releasing "Stomping Ground" today on DVD and VOD. Cast and crew members - including Riesser and Tilly - will celebrate the film's release with a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA on March 8th (today) at 7 p.m. (Pacific time). The cast and crew will also be in attendance for a special screening of the film at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, CA on March 10th at 7:30 p.m. (Pacific time).

Limited-edition "Stomping Ground" DVDs, which include an 11x17 poster signed by the cast and crew, can be ordered directly from BrinkVision.com. The DVD is also available for order through Amazon. The film is currently streaming on Amazon Video and is also slated to appear on Google Play and Vimeo On Demand.




*Movie fans should know Lewis Carroll, if only through another nonsense word he coined: "jabberwocky."

Disclosure: Simply Legendary Publicity provided TFK with access to an online screener of this film (and press kit materials about it) for review purposes only. This website and its author received no monetary compensation for this review.