Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Papa Octopus Productions and Jacki Thomas at Jive PR Digital for allowing me early access to a screener of the Drama/Thriller film “Big Legend”, Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Big Legend focuses on ex-soldier, Tyler Laird (played by Kevin Makely) who returns to the spot in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where his fiancée mysteriously disappeared exactly one year ago. Seeking answers, he sets off on a hike where he encounters an enthusiastic hunter named, Eli (Todd A. Robinson) and discovers the all too real monster that inhabits the land. The film also stars Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Summer Spiro.
Big Legend is Lee’s debut feature-length film (after previously having done work in both TV and shorts) and he’s chosen an interesting sub-genre in the “Bigfoot”. The script is certainly more drama based, with the core story centering around Tyler and his search for answers. Add the element of myth and you’ve potentially got an interesting independent monster film. The pacific northwest makes for a stunning backdrop to Big Legend, and it’s only further enriched through Justin’s determined pursuit for the ideal shot. Cinematographer, Adrian Pruett captures some gorgeous photography, a lovely clear lake and exquisite waterfall being two of the most memorable sequences. Pruett employs gentle Steadicam movements, and in turn, everything is pretty well shot. Some of the night scenes look really good too. The audio track is clean and Lee appears to only resort to a minimal amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording). The score was done by Jared Forman (an experienced music assistant) and there’s some pretty suspenseful stuff in here. The film opens with a lovely theme performed with a combination of violin, cello, drums and piano. It appropriately shifts up a gear or two with the bass when the tension starts to rise.
Lee’s story is all about its characters, and while there are only really two key players involved for much of the 90 minute run time, the secondaries are still important. Big Legend opens with authentic couple Tyler and Natalie (Spiro) venturing into the heart of the forest for some downtime. We’re given a good ten or twelve minutes to really warm to the couple and watch the natural dynamics of their bond play out. It’s not just Lee simply divulging pointless exposition to his audience. Both Makely and Spiro carry themselves well and they make that twosome’s connection translate smoothly. John Carpenter movie alumni, Adrienne Barbeau is well cast as Rita, Tyler’s mother. The two share a brief but heartfelt scene as Tyler wrestles with his conscience and grief. My favourite character in the film was Eli or “Chief”, as I aptly branded him, played extremely well by Todd Robinson. Eli’s your All American hunter with a surprisingly personable demeanour. He insists on using the term “chief” every other sentence, and proves trustworthy after offering Tyler shelter when things inevitably go pear-shaped. Little is learnt about the man, but regardless, he makes for an enjoyable watch. Big Legend is a little light on action considering it’s a film about a Bigfoot. That said, the creature design is a practical one (the suit worn by Skotty Masgai) which will always garner more respect than the usual CG shitfest we’re witness to. There’s a cool practical effect that involves a bone break, as well as some aftermath shots of a latex prosthetic on a characters arm. In addition, there’s a few nice moments utilizing some blood spray.
Big Legend is partially lacking in some of its technical execution, but keep in mind this is Lee’s first full length feature and there’s always learnings out of it. Pruett’s camera work is quite good for the most part, but there’s a couple of focus issues during a scene where Tyler is rigging a tripwire (I think that’s what it was?). That particular series of shots sees the camera shuttering a bit too. On occasion, some of the framing is either moderately high or low, almost as if Justin was debating the shot choice on the go. Michael Tang’s edit is pretty tight but there’s an abundance of fades used in quick succession and I’d much prefer to have seen a little more creativity go into those transitions. The sound bed is also a bit flat in places, most notably during scenes where Tyler and Eli trek through the woods. Maybe it’s just that the crew had audio issues on set and couldn’t use all of the raw sound. While the acting is solid from all involved, there’s a few lines of dialogue that felt stiff. The only continuity hiccup was the sudden weather change throughout the film. It seemed to occur in such a short space of time. Tyler arrives in ideal weather, blue skies and not a breath of wind, then shortly after, it’s a snow-covered landscape and quite windy. I know weather patterns can change, after all it’s America’s Northwest and that can sometimes be unexpected, but I’d wager that the second portion of the film was shot during a different season. Big Legend is perhaps guilty of not quite delivering enough action to satisfy fans of this particular type of film. In comparison to this year’s earlier bigfoot film “Primal Rage” (which delivered in spades), Lee opts to keep his beast in the background for simply too long and the attack sequences don’t end up possessing the same wow factor. Though like the lead character of the aforementioned, Tyler does similarly fail with some of his decision-making. For one, he’s ex special forces but leaves his backpack unattended at one point and it disappears. He retrieves it later, and yet chooses to put it down a second time… uh why? He never asks Eli how he got to the forest, Did he drive? If so, where’s the vehicle? Does it work encase they need to bust out in a hurry? He chooses to run away from the creature on multiple occasions despite realizing it’s the reason for the loss of his fiancée and that’s why he’s there in the first place.
Big Legend is like a cross between “Primal Rage” and “The Edge”, with an independent nature of something like John Portanova’s 2015’s “Hunting Grounds” aka “Valley Of The Sasquatch” https://adamthemoviegod.com/valley-of-the-sasquatch-review/. Justin’s screenplay is solid, the production values are good and horror fans have been in desperate need of some better bigfoot content. The location is beautiful, a bulk of the cinematography is stylish and the score generates a good brand of tension. The opening is bound to get you initially invested in the core couple, and the combo of Makely and Robinson makes for an entertaining two-thirds. What we do get to see of the monster, looks good, and the limited set pieces are well executed, especially those with a couple of practical effects included. The cameos by Barbeau and Henriksen are a good bit of fun too (the latter of the two bought in to set up a sequel). There’s a couple of focus lapses, some absent foley and a few repetitive editing techniques throughout the film and the weather continuity is a bit of a miss. Tyler’s lack of initiative (at least until the third act) can be somewhat frustrating and he doesn’t often make a lot of sound decisions. I think Big Legend does lack some on-screen action, in part probably due to the small budget, just the same, that may hurt its value for multiple viewings. Justin has since shot three more films in a number of genres and I’m really looking forward to checking those out. If you’re a fan of this particular style of Horror/Thriller, Big Legend is well worth a watch. The film is currently available on DVD and through a number of online streaming services. Check out the trailer below!
My rating for “Big Legend” is 6/10