[Review] Hoax is a Fun Mix of 80s Action Horror and Slasher Nastiness

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Hoax has a cold open like any good slasher film would. Six attractive boys and girls are out camping in the forests of Colorado. After telling a “spooky” story about Bigfoot and its thirst for blood, they all get down to the fucking. All paired up. So straight. So boring. My favorite part is when one girl is riding a dude and moans, “Oh Steve!” to which the man says, “I’m Rick.”

“Whatever,” she responds.

Whatever, indeed. Because none of these characters matter as they’re all efficently and ruthlessly slaughtered, in flagrante delicto. We get the news exposition (newsposition?) about how five of the six bodies were found with signs of trauma and “animal scavenging.” It’s eventually blamed on a rabid bear and called The Mountaineering Massacre.

Cut to a network executive named Roger (Matt Riedy) who is approached by Rick Paxton Ben Browder) who wants to make a hit TV show about how the massacre was actually a Bigfoot attack. Roger wants more than a hit show; he wants proof. It’s obvious that Rick’s career has been a complete clusterfuck after clusterfuck and this rather tenuous idea is his last chance of grasping that brass ring...or plummet to his death. That’s the correct metaphor, right?

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Anyway. He has money and a plan. He just needs a crack team of experts to join him for a week. Luckily, we have Dr. Ellen Freese (Cheryl Texiera), a veterinarian who specializes in primates and works with Adrienne Barbeau...I mean Wilma (played by Adrienne Barbeau in one short scene). Their clinic is behind in payments to the point they can’t order more medicine. So when Rick shows up with an offer of $10k for a week’s work, Adrienne Barbeau pushes her to take it.

The rest of the team fills out quickly with cryptozoologist Peter (Schuyler Denham), cameraman Justin (Hutch Dano) and assistant Danny (Brian Landis Folkins). To top it off, we get the high-heeled TV personality/journalist Bridget Powers (Shoshana Bush) and her security/protection, the 80s action star Brian Thompson playing Mr. Singer. Oh. And the father of one of the missing campers, Cooper Barnes (Max Decker), who’s an excellent tracker, to boot. Team assembled, they set out to the massacre site to film and hopefully catch Bigfoot/make a great TV show/get closure.

The first night, Peter vanishes. Then they find tracks leading to a blood-spattered cave. Organs hanging from the ceiling and a large pile of also large animal bones are all they find. And so they go on the hunt. But...who’s hunting whom? Is it Bigfoot? Some crazed murderer? Or just a mean-spirited hoax from a desperate TV producer hoping to take advantage of a terrible catastrophe?

Hoax was written by Matt Allen (also the director) and Scott Park and it’s their feature debut as writers/director. It’s a better directed movie than written. That’s not to say the script is terrible; but it holds too much too close to the vest until the ending. I loved the mystery angle of the narrative. Borrowing from the lost in the woods subgenre and the slasher genre in equal measure, it presents a story that keeps you guessing. They do a very good job of hinting at what’s attacking the hapless film crew without really showing too much. And with a title like “Hoax,” you’re led to believe that there’s something different going on here than a typical Bigfoot movie.

That said, the second act can feel listless at times. It falls into some of the typical traps of people lost in the woods…it doesn’t give them much to do to be proactive. Most of the middle area is spent looking for missing crew members or reacting to events that further isolate them in the forest. By the time the cast starts to turn on each other, pointing fingers and guns, I just wanted it to get on with it.

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And get on with it they do, as the movie veers into 80s action cheese…albeit with a low budget and less action. It’s obvious the filmmakers have a fondness for the 80s action movies and were possibly hampered by the budget. The character names, for example, bring to mind 80s goodness with Paxton, Ellen and Jonesy (the helicopter pilot) as well as the casting of Adrienne Barbeau and action star Brian Thompson. As the genre starts to change, the nostalgic references start to really hit home. I’m talking Aliens-style motion detectors, heat-sensing goggles and automatic guns making an appearance. With Brian Thompson in the cast, you are just waiting for him to go all Cobra on whatever’s stalking them, with his Oakleys and his very large gun.

The acting is decent, the characters one dimensional but I actually had a lot of fun with this one. Aside from the kind of aimless middle section, my biggest complaint is that I wish that the places it goes in the last fifteen minutes were given a bit more time to breathe. We shouldn’t criticize what’s not there, but with the abrupt tonal shift, I think it would have been better served if that were a midpoint reveal. It’s very jarring…effectively upsetting and unsettling…but jarring.

It’s definitely one of the best DREAD releases I’ve seen. It surprised me with its mean-spirited, gore-soaked nastiness. I just wish it had gotten to that point a little quicker.