Animal Blu-ray Review
Directed by Brett Simmons
Written by Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo
2014, Region A, 82 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on February 17th, 2015
Joey Lauren Adams as Vicky
Elizabeth Gillies as Mandy
Keke Palmer as Alissa
Paul Iacono as Sean
Thorsten Kaye as Carl
Amaury Nolasco as Douglas
Jeremy Sumpter as Matt
Parker Young as Jeff
When a pair of siblings take their significant others and a fifth-wheel best friend on a hiking trip into the woods they knew as children, in-fighting and a rapidly setting sun keep this weekend getaway from living up to the nostalgia. Making matters significantly worse, a monstrous animal is on the prowl and eating anything in its path. Our heroes are pursued to a local cabin where they meet a trio of survivors who have eluded the predator and barricaded themselves in. Not everything is as it seems, however, as these are not the first people to have found this sanctuary and the beast hunting them may be smarter than they think. The rag-tag group of possible entrees must work together if anyone has a chance of staying off the menu and seeing the sun rise on a new day.
Some people will complain that this movie is derivative of countless other creature features; and while they are certainly not wrong for spotting the obvious, they are guilty of missing out on the fun. Screenwriters Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo, the team behind 2008's Prank, have created a fast-paced thriller that doesn't spoon-feed exposition and is happy to leave the lesser questions unanswered. Characters are developed in an unobtrusive manner that doesn't beat the archetypes into your head and the plot is allowed to evolve naturally. Animal delivers action right from the start, thrusting audiences into a scenario in which a group of people are running for their lives as the titular animal chases them. Following the opening credits, I was pleased the filmmakers did not lean on the crutch of adding a bit of expository on-screen text, like: “Several Hours Earlier”, as this device is truly lazy and usually takes me out of the picture. Instead, our tale picks up the next day and introduces our core group of hikers; the relevance of the opening scene will come around later.
Director Brett Simmons (The Monkey's Paw) jumps into the proceedings with both feet and never slows down after hitting the ground running. Can I stress that this is a decently-paced flick that is both entertaining and suspenseful? Simmons knows this content as well as his audience and while he borrows heavily from the films that inspired him, he takes the best parts and improves on a lot of shortcomings found in similar cinematic ilk. He knows how to have fun with the material and frames the action in a way that plays with genre conventions and trips up audience expectations. Simmons surrounds himself with talented people on both sides of the camera and everybody benefits. Cinematographer Scott Winig (Laid to Rest) makes the most of both the low light situations and the natural beauty of the surrounding woods. The production and sound design are both top notch, as is the gorgeous creature designed by Gary Tunnicliffe, although it does echo his work on Feast.
Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) headlines as Vicky, but despite receiving top billing in the credits, she is little more than a supporting player. Adams contributes quite a bit, albeit silently, but it is a bit misleading for anyone tuning in to see her star in a horror film. The leading ladies are actually Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) and Elizabeth Gillies (Harold) as Alissa and Mandy respectively and both carry the picture handily, with a slight edge going to Palmer. Paul Iacono (Return to Sleepaway Camp) provides comic relief as Sean, but never resorts to being an obnoxious prankster. Thorsten Kaye (Shark Attack 2) brings some much needed gravitas to the scenario as Vicky's husband, Carl. He is a no-nonsense guy that you want on your side when facing a scary monster in a cabin. Amaury Nolasco (Brother) is his polar opposite as the jerky and cowardly Douglas, a man ready to make the tough calls before anyone needs them to be made. If someone is slightly injured, Douglas is the first to vote that they be fed to the creature. His points are valid but his timing is terrible; in short, he is an awesome antagonist.
At its heart, Animal is a monster movie, pure and simple. There are elements of siege pictures and the standard “Ten Little Indians” motif mixed with themes of Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Man, but it all comes back to people trying to stay out of a scary creature's tummy. As wonderful as the “Spam in a Cabin” subgenre may be, I am curious how it remains an appealing concept to mainstream audiences. I can't say why it took multiple writers, but they got it right and Simmons makes it work. If I am left with a nagging question, it is more along the lines of wondering how it took Drew Barrymore and fourteen additional producers to bring this familiar tale to life?! In the end, none of this really matters as long as the finished product is entertaining, and in this case it definitely is.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Animal looks as terrific as a film made in 2014 should. Shot using the Arri Alexa HD camera, the picture is sharp with strong colors and deep black levels. The majority of the film is set at night and there is nice clarity to both interiors and wooded exteriors. Flesh tones remain natural and colors do not bleed, even when primarily lit by road flares.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a real winner and features some nice directional effects throughout. Music cues and atmospheric sounds in the woods are particularly impressive as are the noises of the lurking beast. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is also provided, but I opted to stick with the more open 5.1 option. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion.
English subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Starting things off is a commentary track with director Brett Simmons, who holds his own with a continuous flow of information that never drags or drones. His introductory pledge to share as much as possible without being pretentious is well handled, as he keeps things on topic and entertaining.
Interviews with the Cast (2 minutes) is little more than a few quick sound bites from Gillies and Palmer praising their experience while clips from the movie fill the screen.
Behind the Scenes (3 minutes) is an equally short and frustrating exercise in futility as a lot of potential information is introduced and never fleshed out in the limited 180 second running time.
Rounding things out are the original teaser and a trailer for the film.