In war-torn Iraq, a group of US Army soldiers are sent to a remote town to rescue a journalist and her cameraman. However, when they arrive at the village, they find that everyone has been killed by a mythical creature called a manticore, summoned by a vengeful insurgent who wants to rid his land of the infidels.
One of Sy Fy’s earlier creature feature efforts, Manticore taps into a then-current events trend of the War on Terror to try and frame a silly story with some serious subtext and credibility. I mean I come to watch this type of film for cheesy thrills and spills entertainment, not some non-too-subtle political point scoring which is all forgotten about once the titular monster appears and the film chugs along with its run-of-the-mill cookie cutter monster movie approach.
Even though this was an early foray from Sy Fy into what would become bread-and-butter TV schedule filler filmmaking, Manticore isn’t fresh in the slightest – far from it – and comes off as very tired and unoriginal. There’s plenty of ‘inspiration’ from the likes of Predator and Aliens, with the ultimately doomed squad of soldiers being given less development than usual and hardly anything to distinguish them from each other before they’re thrown to the mercy of the monster. I’m sure there’s a book of “grunt speak” that script writers just copy and paste whenever they’re trying to flesh out roles such as these soldiers – you literally hear the same dialogue in every single film where soldiers are faced with a similar scenario. Get used to it though because the first third of the film looks and feels more like a war movie than a monster movie.
Things pick up a bit once the monster is introduced. According to legend, the Manticore had the head of a human with three rows of sharp teeth, the body of a lion, and a reptilian tail composed of highly poisonous porcupine-like spines that it could shoot at its prey like darts. It seems like an interesting monster, only it is not presented in that way. There’s such a lack of imagination and inspiration here that this mythical beast could have been any generic killer animal and you wouldn’t notice the difference. The manticore itself is very poorly rendered in CGI, though given this was one of Sy Fy’s earlier efforts, I’m willing to cut them a little slack here. The ropey CGI extends to other parts of the film, including a helicopter crash sequence which wouldn’t have been out of place on a Playstation One game. At least Manticore looks better than most of the usual creature feature rubbish in that it’s been shot on location somewhere in Bulgaria, doubling extremely nicely for Iraq.
Not content with just providing a monster, these films always have to include a human villain to try and add more threat to the main characters. In reality it’s a cheap tactic to switch out the manticore for a bit and allow the generic insurgent bad guy to get some moments in the spotlight to antagonise our heroes so that they’re always facing some sort of threat, be it man or monster. Any scenes involving the human bad guys are slow, they feature generic shoot-out set pieces which could have been lifted off any TV series and really don’t add anything to the story – at the end of the day, the characters will still have to try and kill the manticore otherwise there’s no resolution to the story.
Robert Beltran is the token ‘not good enough to make it to the big screen’ TV actor that pops up in this type of TV movie. Famous for his stint as Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager, Beltran shows why he was always the supporting player in that show with a rather bland, generic performance as Sgt. Baxter here, failing to craft a screen presence to engage the audience. Jeff Fahey gets some limited screen time as Major Kramer, though his role just involves reading through the usual script cliches that a commanding officer barks out to his underlings. The rest of the cannon fodder squad barely get a look in with anything remotely resembling a character. Keeping the Star Trek theme going is a small role for Chase Masterson from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It appears her character’s sole purpose is to provide a reason for the soldiers to venture into the remote village. Once that purpose has been served, she’s collateral damage. Faran Tahir ticks the boxes as the Middle Eastern warlord who wants revenge – the part writes itself when you look like Tahir, which is a pity as I’ve seen him in a few of these low budget films and deserves far better than playing the generic terrorist bad guy.
Manticore features a cast of characters who don’t really have anything interesting to say battling against a CGI monster which won’t capture the imagination of the audience in a backdrop of a controversial and illegal war which will turn even more people off. It doesn’t set itself up to win from the start and the result is a drab early Sy Fy effort which is as formulaic as it is tedious.
Director(s): Tripp Reed
Writer(s): John Werner
Actor(s): Robert Beltran, Jeff Fahey, Chase Masterson, Rei Hance, Faran Tahir, A.J. Buckley, Jeff M. Lewis, Richard Gnolfo
Duration: 88 mins