When I realised Feral – that hit VOD last Saturday – was distributed by IFC Midnight, one of my favourite indie production companies for horror movies currently active, I had to check the movie out immediately.
IFC Midnight is, indeed, known for independent horror movies that don’t rely on jump-scares, pay attention to cinematography and details: they put effort in what they do and it usually shows (even though I still don’t understand what happened with The Midnight Man).
Back to Feral, the movie follows six college students (one of them played by Scout Taylor-Compton from Rob Zombie’s Halloween) who go camping in the woods and get lost. One night, they’re attacked by a creature of sorts, which kills one of them and severely injures another. Trying to call for help, the protagonists come across a cabin in the woods, where a polite but ambiguous farmer (Talbot) offers them a shelter. From there on, the events keep going downhill very fast, with the five remaining guys that will have to fight for their lives against an evil that lies both in and around them.
Although setting a camp in the woods is probably the single most tiresome set-up in a horror flick, it’s possible to get hooked if the execution is well done. Unfortunately – and surprisingly – Feral fails almost on every level, despite a quite captivating and intense beginning.
Let me try to explain. As I just mentioned, the first 20-25 minutes are the best part of Feral, since the action kicks off straight away and, without utilising cheap tricks, it manages to create a few shiver-inducing sequences that, in combination with the good production values, are genuinely frightening. At the same time, however, by shortening the first act (where movies establish characters and atmosphere) the filmmakers don’t develop any character nor they explain what those people are doing in the woods.
The likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, Takashi Miike and others have refused, in some of their films, to introduce the characters in the first act, starting to draw them in the second act and developing them progressively as the story goes by. This is a technique that only masterful directors fully understand and are able to pull off: therefore, when Mark Young – writer and director of Feral – tries to do the same, it comes off as goofy and laughable.
For example, there’s a rule in cinema that states: “show, don’t tell”, which implies that good storytelling needs to rely on visuals, key moments and characters’ action, as opposed to resorting on silly exposition scenes. In Feral, the viewer is spoon-fed with everything they need to know through flashbacks, heavily expository dialogues and sequences where one character tells the others what’s going on. That’s either lazy or inapt writing.
Whether it’s because of the writing or the lack of skills in the actors, the performances in this movie are laughably bad. Feral is hindered by many horror movie clichés, which is a big disappointment considering it’s produced by IFC Midnight.
For instance, at one point a character hears a creepy noise coming from outside Talbot’s house and goes out, leaving the door open, to check. This is one of the most frustrating horror tropes ever: it simply goes against survival instinct since it’s psychologically proven that, if one hears an eerie noise in a situation of jeopardy, they would lock themselves in and secure the place. Most certainly they wouldn’t go to check defenceless!
Yet, the only one character the audience is kind of supposed to root for (Alice, played by Taylor-Compton, who in all fairness gives a good performance) acts like an idiot in so many occasions: multiple times she’s suggested ways to make it, but she always refuses to listen to other people. Are you supposed to take her seriously and feel for her, when she keeps making wrong, dumb and dangerous decisions? See, that’s what I mean by lazy writing.
Feral also tries to deliver an emotional impact but the characters’ actions and reactions are so subdued and unnatural that the viewer can’t really sympathise with them.
Nonetheless, the movie has a few redeeming qualities such as great practical effects (the gore is convincing and the creatures’ makeup is really well-crafted), the ability to cast creepy things in the dark without relying on jump-scares, and a good ending. As a consequence, I think some people might like Feral – my girlfriend did, she found it quite scary despite its shortcomings – so don’t make my review discourage you from checking the movie out.
I, however, don’t recommend it and, ultimately, I was very disappointed since I expected way more from Feral and, mostly, I’m convinced it had the potential to be a great horror film.
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My review is also available on IMDb – Feral