Tonally, the horror-comedy is one of the trickiest hybrid genres to successfully pull off. Lean too heavily on the comedy — as last month’s Full Moon Feature Crying Wolf did — and the horror won’t register. Go too far in the other direction and the comedy will feel awkwardly shoehorned in. The third option arises when neither half of the equation works all that well, leading the whole to be a wash, which is the unfortunate situation with the new werewolf film Uncaged by writer/director Daniel Robbins and co-writer Mark Rapaport. What’s especially sad is they started with a not-terrible concept and proceeded to spoil it with sloppy execution, illogical plotting, and the most egregious comic-relief character this side of Franklin in the woeful Curse of the Wolf. (Stay tuned for that direct-to-video gem.)
See, there’s this boy named Jack (Ben Getz) who, upon turning 18, inexplicably starts waking up outdoors, completely naked and with no memory of how he got that way. Since he’s spending winter break at his uncle’s cabin with his college buds Turner (Kyle Kirkpatrick) and Brandon (Zachary Weiner) — the latter his geeky horndog cousin — after it happens a second time he borrows the former’s GoPro camera and straps it to his forehead to see what he gets up to when he gets up in the middle of the night. This sets up the moment the next morning when he uploads the video to his laptop and watches himself (or, rather, his hairy, flailing arms) kill a man and chase down a woman who manages to get away. That’s when he realizes what he is and retroactively figures out what happened when he was six and his mother slaughtered his father one night while he cowered in his bedroom. (They really should have been more strict about who tucked him in when it was mommy’s time of the month.)
So far, not so bad, even if Brandon’s obsession with sex is more off-putting than endearing. (After Jack comes home one morning clad only in a plastic garbage bag, Brandon confides, “You know, if it’s something weird, like some fetish thing, I get it, all right? Let’s just say I get it.” Enough said, young man.) Then Robbins and Rapaport start introducing extraneous characters like Rose (Paulina Singer), whose suspicious-minded drug dealer husband Gonzo (Garrett Lee Hendricks) is anxious to know what she was doing on a train platform with Jack’s victim. (When she’s interviewed about it on TV, it’s called a “bear attack,” but when she tells Jack the creature looked like “a big gorilla,” that’s a bit closer to the mark.) And the less said about Turner’s online hookup Crystal (Michelle Cameron) the better since her only function is to be his victim when he’s bitten by Jack and subsequently turns into a werewolf himself. Which, incidentally, is where Robbins and Rapaport directly contradict themselves since every discussion between Jack’s mother (Angela Atwood), who’s kept her distance from him for the past twelve years, and his uncle Mike (Alex Emanuel) makes plain that their shared condition is genetic, so it shouldn’t be able to be transmitted via bites or scratches.
Speaking of Jack’s mother, she jumps through a lot of unnecessary hoops to get a heavy-duty metal cage to him, dropping it off at a second-hand store and having its owner leave a cryptic message on Jack’s voicemail. If she had truly wanted him to be prepared for his first (and his second and his third and his fourth) change, she would have been up front with him instead of sneaking into the cabin at night to secretly tranquilize him. And having Uncle Mike send a letter inviting Jack to his empty cabin while he’s out on the road for some damned reason is just plain illogical. Then again, a dearth of logic is endemic to most of these characters. As suspicious as Turner is about what’s going on, why would he go out of his way to prevent Jack from locking himself in his cage? And when Brandon turns up with his throat torn out the next morning, why doesn’t Turner blame himself since it’s totally his fault? And why does he keep inviting Crystal out to the cabin if he truly believes this will put her in harm’s way? When you get right down to it, the only halfway reasonable character in the whole bunch is Wade (Gene Jones, also the only halfway recognizable actor in the cast), the second-hand store owner, and he has next to nothing to do with the plot. That says something, and what it says is not good at all. Woof.