Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Dan Wayne, Big Fur is a new documentary film dealing with the little-known world of competitive taxidermy. Thanks to its extremely compelling and charming subject, and the unusual field in which he practices, this documentary is both very entertaining and surprisingly informative.
The movie follows Ken Walker, one of the world’s most successful taxidermists, as he sets out to make a life-sized recreation of Bigfoot based on an infamous sighting captured on film in 1967. Arguably the main reason for this movie’s success is the fact that it is so unexpected. When one thinks of taxidermy, the immediate first thought would likely be something about stuffed dead animals.
However, as Walker explains, there is much more to the art of taxidermy than that. Over the course of the film, audiences will come to admire Walker and his craft, as the level of detail and effort that is put into creating these realistic recreations of nature is immense and impressive. Herein lies Walker’s (and by extension, the movie’s) main message — there is beauty all over the place, one just has to learn how to see it.
Because of how wacky the story is, the film will have no problem keeping the viewer’s attention. Although the existence of Bigfoot is something that is widely disputed, there is no denying the absurdity of the discussion that surrounds it, and Wayne effectively plays into this for humor. Yes, the movie does go a bit too over-the-top at times, but it is still enjoyable.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this film is that it takes a sharp turn in the final act with the introduction of a romantic subplot. Although this does add some to the subject’s arc as a character, it doesn’t have as much impact on the main storyline as Wayne seems to think it does. Ultimately, viewers will be watching this movie to see a taxidermist build Bigfoot, not to see an artist fall in love.
Wayne does some very interesting things with the cinematic form, the chief of which is an excellent sound design. Rather than using simple montages of Walker building in his workshop, Wayne allows these shots to linger, composer Brad Cox then using the sound from Walker’s tools as the foundation for the musical score. It’s an ingenious method that gives the film a very natural rhythm.
Visually, Wayne also brings an interesting style to the table. Although there are a few low-budget documentary quirks, such as cheesy graphics, other portions of the movie are pretty creative. For example, there is a brief claymation sequence as Walker talks about how he turned towards taxidermy. Things like this give the film enough visual variety for it to be mostly aesthetically-appealing.
Big Fur does have some things that don’t quite work about it, but for the most part, it’s a fascinating look at an unorthodox artform. Granted, the premise may be off-putting to some, particularly animal lovers, but otherwise, it is a solid crowd-pleaser.
Big Fur debuted at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival which runs January 24-30 in Park City, UT.