Thursday, February 19, 2015

In short: Animal (2014)

The by now for all practical purposes proverbial quintet of young, attractive friends (let’s just list Keke Palmer and Elizabeth Gillies) are making a short, day-long hike into the deep dark woods. Alas, when night breaks, an ugly, hungry monster makes its presence known, and soon the quintet’s not a quintet anymore. The thing chases the friends into the just as proverbial cabin in the woods. They are not alone in there, though, for the thing has already chased earlier victims into it who in their turn had already found parts of the house barricaded. Some of these people are even still alive, so everything’s set for a little siege scenario where every one of the character’s plans is thwarted and their numbers are slowly whittled down.

On the surface – and very often below it too – Brett Simmons’s Animal looks like a very generic monster movie like you might see on the SyFy Channel if their films had better photography. However, as I might have said before (and before, and before that) with this sort of traditional approach to horror film, a film wins or loses my eyes and heart with how well it executes the traditions. On that point, Animal does very well, with Simmons making excellent use of the claustrophobic situation, working from an exceedingly well paced script.

The character work is often a bit crude but I think something deeper and more complex would actually hurt this particular movie by slowing it down too much. At least, the characters are generally likeable (except for the one who isn’t supposed to be likeable at all), so I didn’t find myself rooting for the monster, and while there’s not really the feeling of watching real human beings under horrible pressure, they do engage one on more than just the level of pure monster fodder. Okay, there’s one strangely misplaced scene where Paul Iacono’s Sean feels the need to confess he had a crush on one of the other characters’ boyfriend that puzzles me by the sheer virtue of its uselessness for the proceedings, but if that’s the worst the film gets up to, I’m fine with it. And while the characterisation isn’t exactly original – at best slightly updating the spam in a cabin character clichés for 2014 – the film does take care to change up little things like the order in which they bite the bucket, even going as far as playing with who our actual hero is.

It’s, as I already said, not deep stuff, but it does keep Animal lively even when there’s no monster attack going on. And, since the monster attacks themselves are all engaging (and even fun), that’s all the character work needs to do.

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