Bigfoot has enjoyed a cinematic renaissance in the last few years. Not only have there been a glut of squatchploitation flicks, they’ve (mostly) been very good. Duane Graves’ THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD evoked the classic feel of BOGGY CREEK, while the sheer ambition of Howie Askins’ EVIDENCE couldn’t fail to impress. Corey Grant’s THE LOST COAST TAPES also impressed (and managed to throw a few genuine scares into the mix), and Eduardo Sánchez’s much-delayed EXISTS proved to be worth the wait. None of the above are what you’d call big budget, but they’re Hollywood blockbusters compared to the latest entry in the canon, Australian filmmaker Travis Bain’s THROWBACK, a micro-budget horror/thriller that pits a pair of modern day treasure hunters against a Yowie in the far-flung jungles of North Queensland.
There’s a problem with doing Bigfoot (or, in this case, Yowie) on a shoestring. While it’s true that the idea of an undiscovered hominid evokes a hardwired primal shudder, the sight of a man in what boils down to a gorilla suit is just plain silly (I blame ‘70s DOCTOR WHO and their laughable special effects). Thankfully, Bain understands this, and uses two complimentary tactics to combat the absurdity. Firstly, he introduces a subtle vein of humour that ensures things never get too serious. It’s rarely overt, and never strays into parody, but the tongue-in-cheek elements are there from the start, and let us know that this is a filmmaker who understand not only his audience but the limits of what a restricted budget can deliver. Secondly, he’s a master of framing, and shoots the creature either obliquely or so it’s partially obscured. Far from diminishing the monster’s impact, it adds to it, allowing our imaginations to fill in the blanks. The sound design helps, investing the beast with a terrifying roar that’s somewhere between a primate and a big cat.
Bain’s story is simple, but never simplistic. The treasure hunting elements are reminiscent of Indiana Jones, but Bain is more interested in his characters’ relationships, and the twists and turns of the plot, than homaging his favourite films (which isn’t to say there isn’t the odd cinematic allusion – anyone for a glass of Boggy Creek wine?) THROWBACK probably owes more to seminal ‘80s survival horror/action vehicle PREDATOR than its Bigfoot forebears, as the creature is less a wild animal and more a hunter, using the jungle to its advantage and picking off the humans at their most vulnerable. It doesn’t help that at least one of said humans is hell-bent on doing the same. I won’t spoil it by revealing any of the twists, but suffice to say there are plenty.
Perhaps THROWBACK’s greatest asset is its location, one it uses to spectacular effect. The cinematography is lush, occasionally breathtaking, giving the film the feel of a much more expensive production. Bain immerses us in the creature’s environment, reinforcing the idea that his characters are very far from home. The effects are all practical, and while they sometimes fail to convince, it adds to the sense of fun (and proves a welcome relief from the inferior digital effects that dominate these days). Given the amateur nature of most of the actors, the performances are excellent, with the entire cast committing to the material (considering the ordeal the characters are put through, I imagine it was a gruelling shoot). The score, which is professional quality, adds a final touch of class.
Something like THROWBACK is never going to compete with its bigger budget counterparts. But what it lacks in glitzy special effects and swanky production values, it makes up for in heart. It’s a labour of love, a tribute to the classic movies that inspired its director. It’s also an accomplished thriller in its own right, a character-driven creature feature with a plot twist around every corner. With a retro vibe that harkens back to the best of the ‘80s, and an innovative approach that makes a virtue of its limited budget, THROWBACK is highly recommended for fans of the Bigfoot subgenre, and independent cinema in general.
THROWBACK will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK 9 February, and Australia 18 February, with other territories to follow later in 2015. ‘Throwback follows two treasure hunters, a female park ranger and an unhinged ex-cop as they encounter a Yowie, Australia’s answer to Bigfoot, in the remote jungles of Far North Queensland. The film stars Cairns actors Shawn Brack, Anthony Ring and Melanie Serafin, plus Vernon Wells from Mad Max 2 and Commando.’