Monday, March 23, 2015

Animal (2014)

Written by: Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo
Directed by: Brett Simmons
Elizabeth Gillies as Mandy
Keke Palmer as Alissa
Thorsten Kaye as Carl

Tonight on Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theatre, we present Animal for your consideration. This flick should have been called Lazy Bullshit Shortcuts instead. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised considering how much time and effort clearly went into thinking up such a clever title. It's like a big neon sign saying, “We didn't even fucking try!” right at the beginning of the movie.

I suppose I could tell you what it's about, but I imagine just by being told there's a horror movie called Animal, you already wrote a better one in your head in the time it took me to finish typing this sentence. Oh, very well. Two couples and the inevitable quirky fifth wheel friend go into the woods for a hiking trip. Alissa and Jeff are siblings, and Jeff's girlfriend Mandy is Alissa's best friend. Then there's Alissa's complete non-entity of a boyfriend Matt, and Sean, the aforementioned quirky guy. Mandy is whiny and hates hiking. Alissa is black and Jeff is not because instant diversity! Sean is gay, which is actually important later because he and Jeff were having an affair except that the movie didn't take the time to earn the right to that kind of interesting character moment and then it just gets completely ignored like Lisa's mom's breast cancer in The Room.

About an hour into their hike, Mandy's whining is interrupted by Jeff being eaten by some kind of monster. The rest of them flee blindly through the woods until they luck across a cabin occupied by some people we saw running from the monster in the opening scene. Vicky and Carl are trying to keep the place barricaded against the thing getting in, and Douglas is the requisite asshole who has realized that he doesn't need to outrun the monster, just his friends.

There is much made of checking the barricades for weak spots and reinforcing them. This draws the audience's attention to the fact that the barricades are slats of scrap wood nailed across missing windows with gaps between them at least a food wide and that they are, in fact, nothing but one giant weak spot, as illustrated by the monster effortlessly punching through them whenever the script calls for it. I was going to blame the production designer for that until I realized it was probably an intentional choice on the director's part so he could get some good shots of the monster lurking behind the squabbling characters so the audience would see it coming just before whatever stupid, repetitive argument the characters were having this time got interrupted by someone being eviscerated. You know, just so we can fully appreciate how clever he is. If that was the case, the PD should have swatted the director on the nose with a rolled up magazine and sent him to a corner to think about what he had done.

Eventually everyone is killed but Mandy and Alissa, and even though Alissa is the badass outdoors chick who has repeatedly stated her intention of killing the monster in revenge for her brother and boyfriend, she gets killed and Mandy is the lone survivor because she's the pretty white girl and is pregnant. Fuck you, movie.

Bland characters, paint-by-numbers plots, and passive racism are all things we horror fans are used to. Doesn't mean we have to enjoy putting up with them, but if the monster is handled right, watching a group of personality-free ciphers getting mauled can be enjoyable. Unfortunately, the ball was so thoroughly and comprehensively dropped on this one that I can't think of a single nice thing to say about the movie other than the monster had an interesting face. It's got hints of both insect and rodent, which is neat, but it still looks far too similar to the monsters from Feast. Couple that with the fact that the thing's body is clearly just some recycled monster suits from Feast (FX artist Gary Tunnicliffe worked on both movies), and this just draws the viewer's attention to the fact that, despite a few small changes, even the usually reliable Tunnicliffe was phoning it in and re-using old designs.

Even the sound design of the thing is lazy, just throwing in a bunch of generic monster roars that you'll recognize from dozens of other movies without bothering to make sure it sounds at all like something that would come out of a creature of this size and shape. The only sound it makes that comes off as remotely plausible is the coughing bark it makes as it calls out to its brethren in the surrounding woods that there's an easy buffet of thinly-sketched morons thoughtfully packed into a flimsy plywood box for their dining convenience.

Before our first glimpse of the creature, Sean brings up the Ohio Howl, which is supposedly a recording of a sasquatch moaning in the bayous of Louisiana (just kidding, it's in Ohio). Like his gay fling with Jeff and Lisa's mom's breast cancer, it's never mentioned again, but no other clue as to what the creature could be is ever dropped. One mention of an obscure Bigfoot recording that most people aren't familiar with is our entire backstory? Are we supposed to infer that these creatures are responsible for the Bigfood legend, then? That doesn’t make much sense considering it's no larger than a human and we even get several clear looks at its feet (yet another misstep to add to the list, as it looks like the thing is wearing shower shoes).

It's unlikely the thing is supposed to be some sort of escaped genetic experiment rather than a naturally occurring but previously undiscovered animal. It's right there in the title, after all. It's like the writers and director saw The Descent and wanted their own race of creatures hidden from mankind until now picking off spunky characters in the woods. Yes, there's more than one of the things. Trust me, I didn't spoil any surprises. Even the dullest of wits would have seen that plot twist coming a mile away. That doesn't matter anyway, because they forgot one key element that made the creatures from The Descent work; they evolved and lived in an uncharted cave system in the middle of nowhere and only came out periodically in small groups to hunt wild game. Sure, they had a few human victims now and again, but cavers go missing all the time and the Appalachian wilderness isn't a very forgiving place. Also, they looked like things that could have reasonably evolved in nature had a group of hominids been trapped underground and survived long enough to adapt over generations to thrive there.

Here, Hutson, Trillo, and Simmons are asking us to buy into a race of scaly humanoid rats with faces made of teeth, which are highly aggressive and voracious predators, breeding and hunting (and presumably dying and leaving remains, unless they bury their dead, but this piece of shit movie doesn't deserve to have the audience do that much work for it) in a forest so heavily used by hikers and campers as to have clearly marked and groomed trails, NO MORE THAN A COUPLE OF HOURS' WALK FROM A FUCKING HIGHWAY! AAARGH!

There was a time not long ago when the home video market was so flooded with fuck-awful Nintendo 64-grade CGI creature flicks that making a monster movie with a good old-fashioned practical effects man-in-a-suit monster was enough of a novelty to carry a lousy flick that would otherwise be dismissed as just another piece of crap. Unfortunately for the makers of tonight's movie, that time has long passed. The anti-CGI backlash has brought with it a wave of good, and a few great, monster flicks in the last decade and a half, and we fans once again find ourselves spoiled for choice. There is absolutely no reason to settle for half-assed shit like this anymore.


  1. Wish I'd read your review before watching the movie. The worst thing about it, to me, is that it is almost an interesting movie--all those dropped plot points you mentioned kept me watching til the end, hoping for a payoff that never came.

    Speaking of missing payoffs, I'd avoid Muck, which basically makes all the same mistakes as Animal, only with an even more infuriating ending.

  2. Noted. That was one I'd been meaning to check out, actually. I'll give it a pass. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. I'm lucky enough to have read your review before giving into temptation on Netflix, for which I am deeply grateful. I will express this gratitude but suggesting against "Devils Backbone Texas" (lamentable found-footage that craps the bed after flinging poop at most of the few good bits that preceded-- yep, it takes two different scatological metaphors to handle it properly) and recommending heartily "Don't Blink" (spam in a cabin, but decent story, reasonable and adult characters, and no reliance on bad effects or gross-outs).

  4. Thanks, I'll take a look at Don't Blink. It would seem a lot of people have been getting burned by taking a chance on things only to waste 90 minutes and a bunch of bandwidth on being disappointed. Reminds me of going to the video store in the late 90's/early 2000's, except there you could turn the movie case over and go, "Asylum Films? Brain Damage Films? Nope."