“Territorial Behavior” is a found footage film and horror movie written and directed by Peter Bergin. The film follows a survival specialist filming an instructional video in the Montana wilderness who encounters a mysterious pair of hunters with a hidden agenda..
Territorial Behavior creatively takes the form of a wilderness survival instructional video gone awry. The instructional video is aptly named “Territorial Behavior,” the film’s namesake. The film opens in the Lolo National Forest with survival specialist Bailey Rhodes (Ronan Murphy) adjusting the focus on his tripod-mounted video camera. Bailey is the co-owner of the “Rhodes School of Survival” and is creating an instructional video to attract prospective students to his survival school.
In the instructional video, Bailey plays the role of a layperson lost in the wilderness, offering survival tips as he makes his way through the depths of the forest. Bailey explains a myriad of survival techniques, including how to safely drink water from a running stream; using a campfire to deter predators; selecting the best campsite; starting a fire using natural resources; and the psychology of coping while lost in the wilderness.
While demonstrating how to start a fire using nothing but two sticks and some kindling, Bailey encounters two strange men, presumably hunters, with shotguns. The hunters briefly observe Bailey and then make their way back into the forest. Over the ensuing days of filming, Bailey realizes that he is being stalked—but by whom? Is this the work of the two hunters or are there other malevolent forces at work? What starts out as a harmless instructional video transforms into several days of terror for Bailey, whose survival techniques are put to the test.
Found Footage Cinematography
The found footage cinematography used throughout Territorial Behavior is generally good. The main protagonist, Bailey, uses two handheld video cameras to film most of what transpires throughout the film.
While hiking, Bailey films himself, presumably using a selfie stick based on the angle and range of motion. Once Bailey selects a fixed position to either camp or demonstrates a survival technique, he strategically places both video cameras at different vantage points to capture multiple angles. Since Bailey is staging events for the purposes of his instructional video, this technique works well for the film.
Territorial Behavior also utilizes digital cameras Bailey encounters in the forest. These cameras, also known as “camera traps”, are weatherproofed digital cameras strapped to trees that are activated by motion detection. The camera traps are intended to capture photographs of wildlife that cross the camera’s path. During his travels, Bailey sets off several of these cameras and the still images are integrated into the film.
Territorial Behavior includes one of this reviewer’s found footage pet peeves, the insertion of CGI simulating the camera on-screen display (e.g. play button)—these graphical elements do not record to video. During a scene where Bailey reviews footage from the previous night, playback icons are digitally inserted on-screen.
Since Bailey has a video editor for his instructional video, we can safely assume that the editor acquired all of the raw footage and edited the final product that is presented. While the visuals work well in the film and the editing is justified, the audio (discussed later) simply does not stand up to the scrutiny required for a technically correct found footage film. Despite these inconsistencies, for most viewers, the cinematography is unlikely to detract from the entertainment value of Territorial Behavior.
The filming reason used in Territorial Behavior is simple—the protagonist, Bailey, is creating an instructional video and captures everything that happens during his excursion into the wilderness. While this filming reason should be enough to carry the story, the intervening circumstances Bailey faces derail his original purpose for filming.
Bailey sets out to make an instructional video to recruit new students for his school. After Bailey realizes he is being followed, he adapts to the situation and continues narrating to the camera (in an instructional video fashion), explaining the steps he’s taking to evade his unseen stalkers and make his way out of the forest.
In the latter part of Territorial Behavior, Bailey realizes he is in severe danger yet continues to film and narrate to the camera, even taking the time to position his camera to optimize the view for prospective viewers, which seems unlikely given his dire circumstances.
If we are to assume that Bailey continues filming to document his experiences or to salvage the instructional video then these extreme filming scenarios would have plausibility, but Bailey never communicates this intention during the film.
Found Footage Purity
From a technical perspective, the found footage purity of Territorial Behavior is adequate but somewhat compromised due to the audio. Although the visual cinematography is generally good, the found footage conceit of Territorial Behavior breaks down when it comes to audio. The audio appears to have been passed through a noise reduction filter with ambient sound effects (such as crickets, birds, footsteps, and water) dubbed in later. The audio echo during scenes that take place in a tent sound like they were filmed indoors. The net result of this sound manipulation is an audio track that comes across as unnatural and unbalanced. This aspect of the film may impact the entertainment value and perceived realism for some viewers.
Territorial Behavior also perfectly (and inexplicably) captures the audio from Bailey’s cell phone conversations with his girlfriend, editor, and the local Sheriff. In all three instances, Bailey never uses his speakerphone, questioning how his video camera captures the audio from these conversations. If the director had elected to put these calls on speakerphone (rather than having Bailey holding the phone to his ear), the plausibility of the voice recording would go unquestioned.
Despite these flaws, from a purely cinematic perspective, the film does a good job, but some viewers who are sensitive to the found footage technical correctness may have issues with these inconsistencies.
Ronan Murphy performs well as Bailey Rhodes. He presents as a knowledgeable outdoorsman with a penchant for teaching. As the film progresses, we see that much of Bailey’s knowledge lies more on the theoretical side, as he finds himself unable to cope with the stresses cast upon him by the external forces at work. Later in the film, a stressed Bailey breaks several of the cardinal survival rules he lays out early in the story, placing him in even deeper peril. Bailey is also stubborn, refusing to acknowledge that he needs help, and by the time he accepts the gravity of his situation, it’s too late.
While Ronan Murphy’s acting is good, Territorial Behavior struggles with the voice acting during the numerous phone conversations that take place during the film. Bailey’s girlfriend (Bridget O’Connor), Sheriff Krantz (Coey Macri), and Bailey’s video editor (Aaron Lee Reed) come across as too scripted and deliberate.
The main story of Territorial Behavior is interesting, unique, and a breath of fresh air for a genre beleaguered with run-of-the-mill plots. The concept of filming a survival instructional video offers the unique opportunity for the main character to discuss numerous survival tips and techniques, which many viewers are likely to find interesting to watch. If this reviewer ever has the misfortune of being stranded in the woods, I’ll know how to safely drink water from a running stream.
As the film progresses and Bailey’s filming project is disrupted, the film takes a decidedly dark turn, methodically escalating until the climactic action-packed ending which is well worth the wait. The practical effects used towards the end of the film are brilliantly simple, yet highly effective—creating an eerie and tense atmosphere.