Greywood’s Plot begins with two videos. In the first, an old VHS camcorder films a horrific, if impressionistic, act of surgery being performed in a shed, and ending with a flatline. The second opens with the line “This is where my existence ends,” as Dom Stafler (played by the similarly named Josh Stifter, who is himself this film’s writer, director and editor) provides a live commentary for video footage from his childhood that he has just edited together. The ominous tone of Dom’s voiceover is repeatedly, hilariously undercut by his more critical comments on his unoriginality, his poor phraseology and his choice of images, while in turn the humour is dampened by the realisation that this is a suicide video which Dom is leaving for his mother (Kim Fagan). Dom is a depressed manchild, still living in his mother’s basement – and while he wonders whether there might be more to life, he is still monomaniacally focusing this quest for meaning on the investigative cryptozoological videos that he makes – and has been making since childhood – with his friend Miles (Keith Radichel), even though these only ever garner online attention of a mocking kind for their absurd subject matter and his own on-screen gaffes. Dom just wants “to do something original, something fresh” – although even when a VHS tapes trangely appears in his mailbox apparently capturing a Chapucabra-like creature in the woods, Miles can immediately see that it is fake, and worries that, in going to the property where the video was filmed, his friend is just pursuing the same old pipe dream, and caught in the same rut, all over again.
Stifter’s film shows a similar anxiety of influence, and similarly longs to take old genre tropes in new directions. The grip of the past is evident not only through the VHS tapes and other old-school trappings that keep asserting themselves in an otherwise modern world of computers, the Internet and smartphones, but also through the film’s black-and-white presentation (apart from opening titles that splatter in red across the screen), and the occasional horizontal VHS tracking noise that distorts the film’s imagery.
There are also plenty of references here to creaky classics of horror history, although these are signifiers less of where Greywood’s Plot is heading than of which established paradigms it is resisting. Naturally Doug Greywood (co-writer Daniel Degnan), owner of the land where the ‘dogboy’ creature was supposedly filmed, lives expressly in an Evil Dead-style ‘cabin in the woods‘. Naturally in these backwoods Miles references John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972). Naturally when Miles goes for a pee, he adopts the exact same back-to-camera, head-down pose as Mike in the final scene of The Blair Witch Project (1999). And naturally, in this woodland, campsite setting, Miles brings up slashers, even if only to dismiss them (“They all fucking suck anyway”). And, perhaps not so naturally, Miles tells a C.H.U.D.-style urban myth of a couple attacked, killed and eaten by a tunnel-dwelling hobo (a story visualised in an outmoded style of animation).
Yet all these narrative breadcrumbs are there only to lead us astray. Dom’s search for “something riveting, something that’ll capture the audience’s imagination” is also of course the film’s, as both go on a parallel quest for new and unusual forms. Along the way, Dom and Miles discuss their dreams (both literal and metaphorical), their ambitions and their disappointments, as well as talking about their ideal pets (Miles would like a dog, Dom a bigfoot) – until suddenly, as Dom hits his lowest point, their weekend monster hunt collides with a different kind of plot (reconfiguring the film’s ambiguous title), and the crazy kicks in hard.
Originality is a strange and elusive thing, sometimes achieved not by breaking entirely new ground, but by hybridising different elements into novel, unexpected arrangements. Greywood’s Plot rejects all the predictable horror routines, instead going for more outré models like Zach Lamplugh’s The VICE Guide To Bigfoot (2019), Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009), Carles Torrens’ Pet (2016), and most obviously the cycle of Dr Moreau films and a certain, already genre-leaping film (on which Stifter worked as an animator) by Kevin Smith (who is explicitly given ‘special thanks’ here in the closing credits). These are sutured together into a never-before-seen monstrosity of genre, all at once cruelly funny and utterly grotesque, as, reborn with a new sense of purpose and a new best friend, Dom can finally become sub while chasing his own tale.
strap: Josh Stifter’s metacinematic monster movie goes into the woods in search of its own hilariously grotesque form of hybridity
© Anton Bitel