Werewolf films can be a tricky beast. Horror film history can count iconic versions on their front paws. Uncaged from director Daniel Robbins is an entertaining but too silly entry to leap onto that list. But that does not mean it lacks enough visceral punch to keep a horror fan satisfied. Much of the problem comes from a number of conflicts that either never get resolved or are forgotten entirely. A seemingly important character is dispatched early on in a comedy of errors placing two of the three friends at odds, but the drama that could have been accentuated upon barely gets a proper beat. Instead, Uncaged focuses on the comedy angles and odd situations with comical actor Zach Weiner brashly throwing one liners and outrageous nonsensical dialog at the other cast. The werewolf elements get their opportunities to shine, to make their mark on the werewolf film with their admirable practical approach but fall short. Ultimately Uncaged is unbalanced making for a tame horror film but a fairly entertaining comedy coming across more like an extended situation comedy. Too bad, the story has its own merits and promise.
The main thrust of Uncaged borders on predictable as Jack Luskey (Ben Getz) struggles to come to grips with the nature of his bout with sleepwalking, waking up naked in the woods. Yeah, easy to see where this is going fast. Jack is vacationing in the countryside at his uncles remote house with his two closest friends, the horn-dog Turner (Kyle Kirkpatrick) and the geeky nerd Brandon (Zack Weiner). Brandon is quick to figure out what is up with Jack’s nightly excursions while Turner is more interested in hooking up with local free-spirit Crystal (Michelle Cameron). Things get complicated for Jack when the girlfriend of his first victim turns out to be the bride of a local crime lord who then believes Jack is having a tryst with his wife. Meanwhile, Brandon wants to save his friend while Turner wants to prove he is a werewolf. Oh, and all the while, shop owner Wade (Gene Jones) steals the show out from under then entire cast.
To the film’s credit, Uncaged does not rely on CGI werewolves to populate its werewolf story. Instead, Jonathan Podwil supplies practical effects and bloody good werewolf gruesome carnage. Unfortunately, while far from inefficient or useful, the practical effects are not as satisfying as desired, coming across a bit too much like a haunted attraction make-up concoction. This may be a bit harsh because they do serve the film, especially the comical tone Daniel Robbins weaves throughout the visuals. But, dammit, it is a werewolf film – and, werewolf films live and die by their werewolf effects. The earlier hints at lycanthropy are handled well as Jack wears Turner’s go pro on the night he slays his first victim. The POV approach is interesting combining sound effects to the chase and glimpses of his now furry paws. More of that approach and tone would have gone a long way.
Ben Getz proves to be a fine lead as the doomed Jack Luskey. He is convincing as the character is forced to come to terms with his condition, first doubting it, then struggling to discover its origins and extent. He is also charming and funny, wearing the innocence of the character well. He also has good chemistry with Rose (Paulina Singer) and makes a great straight man for Brandon (Weiner) who gets all the better lines and jokes. Zack Weiner works hard to be funny throughout the film to varied degrees of success. Often funny, he can also be obnoxious in his delivery. For the most part, thankfully, his bizarre approach proves to be a welcomed contrast to the more soap opera story beats once Gonzo (Garrett Hendricks) is introduced. The group often ends up in the local haberdashery owned and operated by grumpy curmudgeon Wade played delightfully by Gene Jones. His brief appearances beg for more of his character, but, alas, that is not to be.
The start lighting and focused camera angles from cinematographer Rasa Acharya Partin and director Daniel Robbins make the film appear made-for-TV which is great for the soap opera subplots and cementing a realistic – if somewhat goofy – friendship between Jack, Turner and Brandon. But, it doesn’t do the werewolf segments too many favors. This is prevalent during the conclusion where many of the characters finally come face to face with the beasts that lie within. What works with An American Werewolf in London where David transforms in full view in a brightly light natural, normal setting does not work as well within the context of Uncaged, it lacks the striking contrast between the supernatural and the semblance of a real life environment. The crew seem better suited for a hilarious awkward dinner where Gonzo is trying to intimidate the trio but they are too preoccupied with Jack’s lupine condition to fully notice. They do handle the werewolf on the prowl scenes far better, a touch that would have been well used during other key moments.
Uncaged is a goofy, gruesome, genial good time, a harmless, entertaining, often funny entry into the werewolf sub-genre. It won’t likely leave a lasting impression but it won’t elicit too many groans and frowns either. It will make for a satisfying Netflix watch once it inevitably makes it to that platform. More successful with its comedy than its horror, Uncaged is a suitable distraction from the mundane. Ben Getz makes the most out of his ill-fated Jack Luskey and his newfound werewolf heritage. Garret Hendricks steps all over the other cast as Gonzo but his crime boss character doesn’t seem to ultimately fit the horror elements of the main story. Gene Jones steps in from time to time to liven things up as Wade. Director Daniel Robbins seems well suited for the comedy side of Uncaged but is less sure of himself with the film’s more horrific and monstrous elements making for an uneven and unforgivably flawed film as the film feels like its story resides just beyond the director’s grasp.
Uncaged (2.8 / 5)
UNCAGED is available on Digital Video and on DVD on Feb. 2, 2016