Monster Movie Monday: Maneater (2007)
Gary Busey vs Tiger2
Matthew Turner | On 07, Feb 2022
Director: Gary Yates
Cast: Gary Busey, Ty Wood, Ian D Clark, Blake Taylor, Aleks Paunovic
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime Video has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Directed by Gary Yates and based on Jack Warner’s 2003 debut novel Shikar, Maneater is the third film in a series of made-for-TV natural horror movies produced for Syfy. Dubbed the Maneater series, the previous films include Grizzly Rage (2007) and In the Spider’s Web (2007), with the phrase “natural horror” referring to the fact that the depicted animals are normal, living creatures, rather than genetically altered mutants.
Set along the Appalachian Trail, the film begins with an escaped tiger attacking a jogger. Fortunately, Sheriff Grady Barnes (Gary Busey) is on the case, and once he establishes that the threat he’s facing isn’t gang violence, a serial killer or a bear, he dedicates himself to protecting his small town and taking down the tiger.
As the silent-but-deadly tiger continues its killing spree, Entertainment Weekly offers a reward for its capture, so the town is soon swamped with amateur tiger killers, as well as British Big Game Hunter Colonel James Graham (Ian D Clark) and the National Guard, lead by arrogant Sergeant Winshiser (Aleks Paunovic). Meanwhile, young Roy Satterly (Ty Wood), who’s prone to sleep-walking, discovers that he’s connected to the tiger in a strange way – he keeps seeing it in his dreams and it frequently appears outside his bedroom window.
Maneater deserves points for its commitment to using a real tiger throughout the film, rather than opting for cheap-looking CGI. Unfortunately, the tiger in question isn’t much of an actor, so almost all the tiger kills occur offscreen. In fairness, there are a couple of shots where the tiger appears on screen at the same time as the actors – these were apparently achieved by the tiger being on a leash, with both leash and nearby trainer digitally erased in post-production.
The film attempts to compensate for the tiger’s lack of screentime with lots of gory aftermath shots, usually of severed, bloody limbs. There’s even a brief shot of a corpse’s tiger-chewed face, which feels gorier than strictly necessary, given how tame the film is elsewhere. (The most effective trick is a sequence where the tiger attack is captured in a series of photographs taken by the hapless victim.)
As for the performances, a surprisingly spry-looking Gary Busey is good value, putting his perpetually peeved face to good use. In fact, it’s a shame the script didn’t lean into that a bit more, because he’s meant to be playing a good-hearted character, the sort of Sheriff who keeps inviting people over for pie.
The rest of the supporting cast are poorly served by the underwritten script, which sets up potential subplots – such as the big game hunter’s desire for redemption – but never manages to deliver on any of them. Most annoyingly, the script makes a big deal of Roy’s psychic connection to the tiger – to the point where, just for a moment, you wonder if it’s going to turn out that the boy killed all the people while possessed by a tiger spirit or something – but then completely fails to pay that off.
On top of that, the film neglects the most basic rule of a creature feature, which is that bad people get always eaten. We can only assume that Sergeant Winshiser’s death scene ended up on the cutting room floor, because his entire performance and demeanour just screams “tiger bait” and it’s frankly a miracle he survives.
The script has other problems too, including terrible, borderline offensive dialogue – “I heard you were in the tunnel when Diana got killed!” says one journalist to a rival – and the fact that the tiger apparently has the ability to kill in total silence. The script attempts to address that issue – Colonel Graham explains that its first move is always to crush the victim’s windpipe – but that seems highly unlikely.
The film does have the occasional good bit. Most notably, there’s a clever reversal scene where two potential victims are established and the one that gets eaten isn’t the one you’re expecting, but that’s undermined by the fact that the one character doesn’t hear the other getting chomped by a hungry tiger just a couple of metres away.
The ending is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it delivers the only onscreen tiger attack, plus you get to see Gary Busey finally interact with the tiger, even if all he’s doing is running away from it. However, the supposedly “happy” ending (clue: Sheriff Busey and his wife were never able to have children) is so bizarrely misguided that it ends up being laughable.