Steeped in the 1970s aesthetic of faux-documentaries like The Legend of Boggy Creek, directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks have crafted a down home, corn pone variation of the Bigfoot legend, a “based on true events” yarn about a dangerous man-creature that terrorizes the bottoms of the Navidad River outside of Sublime,
Early on, an aggressively baritone narrator provides a brief oral history of the Wild Man of the Navidad, assuring the audience that the story that follows—taken from the personal journals of one Dale S. Rogers—is completely true. Co-director Justin Meeks plays Dale, an unemployed welder in over-alls and black horn-rims who favors a Jeffrey Combs’ grimace as his primary method of self-expression. Unable to afford medication for his crippled wife, Dale decides to lease portions of his land to day hunters for a hefty fee. Hunting season has just begun, and Dale’s got several prime river-bottom acres that are rich with game.
But Dale knows that the Wild Man prowls the lower bottoms of the Navidad River. The decision to let hunters onto his property begins to weigh heavily on his conscience. Every night at 9 pm, Dale leaves a dead deer fetus on his porch step, as a sacrifice to the Wild Man. The Wild Man approaches the house, crunches on the deer fetus, and leaves Dale a bone-and-rawhide token in return. Their generations-old arrangement has kept the Wild Man at bay for years. But as gun-crazy hunters begin to invade the Wild Man’s territory, the trust is broken, and the Wild Man is forced to retaliate.
With their desolate Texas exteriors and brilliantly cluttered interiors, the filmmakers provide a tangible and amusing glimpse into the idiosyncratic Southern lifestyle. Too bad The Wild Man of the Navidad is so deliberately paced, with several rambling discussions regarding moonshine and homemade distilleries filling the ample time between Wild Man attack scenes. But much like with the previously mentioned Boggy Creek, the directors emphasize atmosphere above all else, a decision that helps the audience overlook the slow pace, stilted acting and cheesy violence.
The Wild Man of the Navidad is more successful during its first third, when the titular creature is a thing of blur and shadow. As more of the monster is revealed during later attack scenes, its fur-clad bulk and antlers-for-hands are goofily reminiscent of Those We Do Not Speak Of from The Village.
With the help of co-producer Kim Henkel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Graves and Meeks have embraced the cinematic tone of the 1970s with confidence. Stylistically, it’s a seamless foray into the retro world of drive-in exploitation. With a creepier monster and some better scares, The Wild Man of the Navidad could have been a post-modern masterpiece.