The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear is a new documentary from Small Town Monsters, which will unlock a decades-old mystery that included a government-ordered military examination of a purported alien crash-site, and multiple UFOs seen by countless residents of Braxton County, WV. In the years since their brush with the “Flatwoods Monster”, witnesses have seen their story evolve from a terrifying, true-life event to little more than a fable. Two of the remaining witnesses will set the record straight when the film is released on April 6th. The “Flatwoods Monster incident” has become one of the most famous legends in modern memory.
Most of the time, I review movies about monsters. Occasionally, though, a documentary comes along that demands our attention. What could be more fun, then, than a doc about monsters? The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear, is the latest cryptid-based from writer/director Seth Breedlove, who has previously brought us titles such as The Mothman of Point Pleasant and Beast of Whitehall. The Flatwoods monster might not have the same level of name recognition as The Mothman but is this the film to make this small town legend a phenomenon on the level of the Chupacabra or Bigfoot?
The Flatwoods Monster a.k.a The Braxton County Monster a.k.a The Green Monster a.k.a The Frametown Monster a.k.a The Phantom of Flatwoods (how does this thing have more nicknames than bigfoot?) is the name given to a figure supposedly encountered by a number of residents of Flatwoods, West Virginia during the summer of 1952. The story goes that local kids Fred and Edward May witnessed what they describe as a UFO crash. After reporting this to their mother, they, along with a few other boys, went to the site of the crash where they encountered a 10-ft tall mechanical beast with glowing eyes that emitted a noxious, acidic mist. You can get that story off of Wikipedia, though, so what does this film offer above what we can get from the written reports?
We get the accounts of Fred and Edward May, the only known surviving witnesses to the event, who seem to have remarkably consistent stories after all of these years, but at the same time they seem guarded, as if they would prefer that people stop investigating the story. In general, those interviewed are believers that nonetheless recognize that they have been introduced to the legend through the distorted lens of folklore. The tone here is similar to something like Ancient Aliens, with a heavy dose of sensationalism and at most a cursory glance at any explanations that aren’t in line with its narrative. Personally, I wasn’t bothered by this, as I think you go into a film like this more for the thrill of the “what if?” than an even-handed examination of the facts.
One thing that all documentarians must wrestle with is scope. It’s difficult to contextualize any topic fully unless you’re Ken Burns and can get away with devoting a 10-part miniseries to your subject. In contrast, The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear is a hair over 40 minutes long without the credits. This works well enough in terms of pacing, addressing the build-up and facts of the event central to the story without overstaying its welcome, but I can’t help but feel there are angles to the story that we are missing out on. A good portion of the film’s first 15 minutes are devoted to exploring the larger phenomenon of UFO sightings, which does a good job of establishing the hysteria that could account for reports not only of The Flatwoods Monster but of other cryptids such as The Mothman of the late 1960s. While it does a fine job of establishing a chronology of these events, propelled by a relatively engaging narration, I can’t shake the feeling that certain elements could be omitted so that greater focus could be given to the larger influence the mythos has had on the community. We see images of art and toys, even talk of the monster appearing in a couple of video games, but these are relegated to the film’s closing moments, with the bulk of the narrative focused on that event 60+ years ago.
The substance of the Flatwoods Monster story doesn’t differ greatly from many others of its type; a small group of people witnessing something lurking in the woods in the dead of night without any material evidence but this film helps bring that story to life in a novel way through its generally successful use of dramatic recreation and mixed media storytelling. Interspersed throughout the interviews, which are visually-striking in their own right with sharp, vivid colors and sweeping aerial shots of the West Virginia landscape, we are given a wide array of different interpretations of the monster and the event told through a combination of live action filmmaking, CG, and miniatures. The live action portions are the most lackluster, fleshing out the story without much in the way of frills or artistic direction. The other approaches are more fruitful, however, with the CG possessing a hand-painted quality that gives it a unique feel and texture and the use of miniatures which seem hard to justify given that this is a low-budget documentary, but which imbue the film with an eerie surrealism as the set pieces of this story are presented as a series of lovingly-crafted dioramas.
If you’re someone that is generally intrigued by cryptids and either hasn’t been introduced to this one or if you’re looking for more background on the story, then The Flatwoods Monster: A Legacy of Fear is almost certainly worth checking out. Otherwise, I would recommend it to those that enjoy docs and are intrigued by the stylistic risks the film takes, even if it’s not perhaps the most complete or even-handed portrayal of the facts.