When it comes to werewolf movies, so much excitement relies on the transformation. An American Werewolf In London still stands as one of the all-time achievements in practical wolf-itizing, and newer titles, such as Wolf Cop, have had their go at flesh-ripping, hairy mutations. So how does a low, LOW budget affair like Daniel Robbins’ Uncaged stand a chance against more well-endowed genre entries? Don’t expect wicked effects work sans an ending that goes for broke (and even then, the wolves look a bit Halloweenish), but Robbins’ scrappy demeanor continually claws and scratches towards a meaty conclusion. Does it succeed? Well, that’s the million-dollar question (a question far too expensive for this film’s meager budget to answer).
This particular roaring nightmare begins when three college goofballs decide to spend their winter vacation in the middle of a wintry nowhere. Jack (Ben Getz), Brandon (Zack Weiner), and Turner (Kyle Kirkpatrick) jump at the chance to experience some juvenile freedom, so the threesome pack for a fun-filled escape fueled by uncorked testosterone. Brandon plays his computer games, Turner hooks up with a local girl, but Jack continually wakes up naked next to a dumpster (not in a good, fun way either). Unable to recall any of the previous night’s events, Jack straps a GoPro on and attempts to catch his sleepwalking habits on camera. Habits that kill people, and turn him into a bloodthirsty killing machine.
Let me address expectations, and set some people straight – Uncaged can feel like a student film at times, both in atmosphere and performance. The beginning college sequences are hard to endure, as we’re transported back to awkward parties where students act overly drunk (guy pukes on girl already puking in toilet) and completely moronic. Enter three stereotypical bros (the shy protagonist/the nerdy virgin/the sex-obsessed loose cannon), who ramble on about smashing poon and jerkin’ it like their semen cures cancer. It’s all “thirsting for penis” this, and “hit the bong, bro” that. As expected, these trying times are fratty and derivative, but worse still, the dialogue never evolves from its Cro-Magnon persona. Even with werewolves present.
Once the boys get all cabin-cozy, a family gene is revealed and Jack starts unleashing his wild side… to a degree. Kills and gore take longer to coat the walls than we’d like, as a blurry, first-person camera view dilutes the first vicious attack. Otherwise, Turner just waves around his shotgun (because we all travel with shotguns), and Brandon rattles off super geeky jokes while Jack hides his woolly state. Genre excitement is at a minimum here, banking off a hopefully intriguing distrust that infiltrates the group early on.
But, for being typical indie caricatures, there’s something genuinely watchable about the crew, probably because their ridiculousness is grounded. Brandon may seem annoying, but his chemistry with Jack actually works better than it should, along with Turner’s ladies-man machismo and rebellious actions. This is a horror movie built on questions about werewolf dicks and fears of dying a virgin, which had me chuckling more than I’d like to admit.
Yet once we get to the real payoff, you can tell where Uncaged focused what little budget it was granted. We meet a tapenade-dishing drug dealer named Gonzo (Garrett Hendricks) earlier in the film, and he eventually captures Jack for reasons best left for the film to explain. This is where we first catch a glimpse of Jack’s full transformation, along with some fierce slashing and a head-splitting burst resulting in a literal geyser of blood. These moments make us wish that similar action scenes were scattered throughout – except for Jack’s minimalist werewolf getup. Production just slaps some grey face paint on Ben Getz, pops in yellow contacts, glues tufts of hair on his face, and viola – werewolf! Respect the grit and determination that Robbins’ proudly shows, but limited resources just don’t permit for a beast worth fearing, or believing.
Uncaged is a neutered werewolf effort that, while ambitious, leaves much to be desired. There’s a story worth telling here, but not with fake gun blasts and costumed actors who look like they’re about to go trick-r-treating. Everything from ADR guffaws to unblended makeup wounds strike Robbins’ beastly film like a flurry of silver bullets, putting this puppy down in the saddest of fashions. Uncaged deserves a better treatment, because this super-cheap version just doesn’t cut it. No way, no how.