I've watched a lot of these "trapped in the wilderness" kinds of films. Many were campy little flicks that didn't take themselves too seriously. Basically, the "so bad, it's good" type of film. Others relied too heavily on "gorn" factor to get by, sacrificing anything in the way of a working plot or character development or focusing too much on petty issues and side plots between its characters and reducing the main horror elements to mere plot points.
Animal, thankfully, doesn't do either. Setting a fast and furious pace from the prologue, it manages to hook viewers by presenting a very real and very prominent threat. From the point we see the monster claim its first victim, we know stuff has already gotten real. The rest of the feature is a high-octane race to stay alive as a new group of unsuspecting nature-lovers enters the scene and before long, are faced with the most primal fear of the human psyche: being eaten alive.
Our main cast consists of siblings Jeff and Alissa, their respective significant others, Mandy and Matt, and fifth-wheel Sean. They’re out for a typical hike through the woods, which thanks to ongoing deforestation won’t be there much longer. Barely fifteen minutes into the story, a wrong turn is made and we see that there are some underlying tensions among the five friends. Most movies would run with this; this film plays with it a bit, but shortly after the gang discovers the monster in their midst, it’s quickly forgotten as they are forced to flee for their lives to the seeming safety of an abandoned cabin. Predictably, all of them don’t make it.
The three survivors from the prologue have also taken refuge and what follows is a claustrophobic case of cabin fever as the newly combined group debate over how best to survive the night, with various characters getting picked off as our story progresses. We soon learn that, even with a bloodthirsty oddity of nature literally standing on your barely protected doorstep, things can be equally dangerous indoors---especially when one of your own takes “survival of the fittest” just a tad too far.
Animal could honestly be considered pure survival horror, a la Resident Evil (the game, not the film). We have a group of people that gets trapped inside an old dwelling with limited means of defense and are forced to rely on their wits to have even the slimmest of hopes. Most movies with this premise would usually have a special weapon, a sci/tech expert, or some other tool, however slight to even up the odds. Animal doesn’t, and that’s part of what sets it apart and makes it a true horror thriller.
It’s also a throwback of sorts: it doesn’t rely on CG or high-tech digital graphics. Just good ol’ fashioned animatronic terror and liquid gore, akin to the 70’s and 80’s creature features I used to watch on Saturday afternoons. Furthermore, its tone is deadly serious. Yes there’s humor, mostly of the dry, snarky kind. But this is one horror film that knows its purpose and doesn’t even bother with such distractions as potty jokes or innuendos.
The acting is spot-on. When our surviving characters realize their predicament, it’s all about survival for everyone. Most of them favor a team approach for a mutual chance to live while there’s at least one loose cannon that’s willing to sacrifice the others. Still, as things escalate from bad to worse, the trapped victims understand that there can be no reasoning or complex logic in the end; it’s fight or flight if you want to live.
Of particular note, Liz Gillies’s portrayal of protagonist Mandy is extremely convincing. Initially, she is introduced as the spunky yet out of her element city-girl type who is usually the first to go in movies of this ilk. Once the blood and guts start flying, however her will to live spikes to a fever pitch and we see her terror give way to a deep seated determination for survival, the reason for which is revealed in a quiet moment during the movie’s escalating turning point.
Similarly, Keke Palmer’s Alissa demonstrates an inner toughness despite bearing witness to the gruesome demise of those closest to her. Having experienced things that would reduce most people to a state of fear-induced paralysis, she remains strong enough to fight, determined to either make it out alive or make her monstrous tormentor pay dearly for claiming her.
Overall, I find this feature to be extremely enjoyable for its plausibility among other factors. No big guns, no super-science solutions, no wickedly awesome scenes of the heroes and heroines UFC-ing their way to freedom and victory. Mutant monster aside, “Animal” is a very real depiction of just how dangerous it can be—pardon the cliché-- to get lost in the woods. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quality, straightforward, horror flick.
Animal is currently available for download through iTunes and can be viewed on Chiller