When a group of thrill-seeking young adults BASE jump into a forbidden portion of the Tasmanian wilderness, they didn’t foresee that one of their group would die in the process
Ah, SyFy movies. There’s just something about them isn’t there? I think it’s that special, potent blend of high concept, iffy CGI and a lack of skill in actually pulling it all off. With every one of their disaster movies or creature features I see, I always think the same, ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ This time around my eyebrows were raised by Tasmanian Devils, a film purportedly set in Australia’s island state, Tasmania, but which has clearly not even been filmed in the vicinity of a map of the Asia Pacific Region. This is not the gritty reboot of Bugs Bunny’s antagonist you were hoping for, but it’s close.
Danica McKellar, aka Winnie from The Wonder Years, heads up the cast in this mock-antipodean creature feature. Winnie plays Alex, a park ranger living in Tasmania to study aboriginal folklore. Remember that great scene in Jurassic Park where Sam Neil is introduced to the audience terrifying a small child with a raptor claw? Well, McKeller, as Alex, is introduced in a similar fashion whilst discussing Tasmanian Devils with a child who, for some reason, is channelling the accent of a Steve Irwin impersonator. It’s as horrific as it sounds. Which is a bit of problem as Alex’s job for most of the film is to provide dubious exposition about the Dreamtime to explain why monstrous demons are running around the woods. It’s just vague enough to make sense, as long you don’t think about anything she’s actually said.
Alex and her fellow rangers are called into action when a group of trespassing base jumpers find themselves lost in the ‘Tasmanian’ woodlands and surrounded by all things pointy teethed and furry. Not that the film tries very hard to get you care whether the base jumpers survive or not. In an unusual twist, Tasmanian Devils fails to give them any worthwhile traits. If they’re not sniggering at the phrase ‘virgin territory’, they’re boasting about bribing the Aussie authorities with their cold hard American cash, so they can pollute the indigenous sacred ground with their whooping and their hollering. When one of them becomes impaled on a giant stalagmite, it took everything within me not to applaud.
Of course, this being a SyFy movie, we need our monsters big and meaty and pointlessly glowing red. On that front, Tasmanian Devils doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it must be said the titular creatures certainly look the part… Right up until they start moving. By which point they resemble Ray Harryhausen knock offs. And if I was to be really honest, I’d swear these were the same character models used in The Return of the Killer Shrews.
It’s not just the suggestion of reused creatures that lends the film an air of utter cheapness. Despite the best efforts of director Zach Lipovksy – who was apparently given the Leprechaun: Origins gig off the back of this – the whole thing looks like it’s been rushed to meet a deadline. Case in point, halfway through the film it inexplicably snows. Obviously the weather at the time of filming was clearly tempestuous. However, rather than re-film the scene at a later point, they address the snow by having someone say, ‘That’s odd.’ Please note this weather anomaly is never mentioned again, reinforcing my opinion that everyone was out the door and on their way home as soon as the bell rang.
On a positive note, at times Tasmanian Devils is a pretty gory film. When a character wakes up with their cheek impaled by a large tree branch, they certainly bring new meaning to the term ‘morning wood’. However, outside of these one or two smatterings of the old red stuff, the film is crushed under the weight of its own lack of characterization, overly long scenes of exposition and even longer scenes of walking around the woods listening out for things.
Too silly to take seriously and taking itself far too seriously to have fun with, Tasmanian Devils needn’t bother anybody’s list of monster flicks this year.