Studio: Chiller Films
Director: Brett Simmons
Writer: Thommy Hutson, Catherine Trillo
Producer: Andrew Gernhard, Zach O’Brien, Colin Theys, Ember Truesdell, Chris Miller, Thommy Hutson
Stars: Joey Lauren Adams, Elizabeth Gillies, Paul Iacono, Eve Jeffers, Thorsten Kaye, Amaury Nolasco, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Sumpter, Parker Young
Two groups of vacationing campers band together to battle a bloodthirsty predator stalking them from the woods.
As someone eternally enamored with 1980’s-style horror movies, a surefire way to pique my interest is to open a film with simple white-on-black credits in that instantly recognizable John Carpenter font. As someone who has already forgotten a fair share of redundant trapped-in-the-forest creature features, a surefire way to instantly kill that interest is to follow with a rote scene of a woman tripping while being chased through the woods.
A home video extra that “Animal” really ought to have is a behind-the-scenes featurette documenting the pitch meeting where somebody greenlit this movie. Any sensible producer would have immediately tuned out after the writers began by saying, “five twentysomethings go hiking in the woods…” By the time they made it to, “and then a creature chases them to a cabin where they die one at a time,” you might think someone would ask, “okay, well what’s the unique hook?” When the response was “no, that’s it. It’s just a monster stalking these people,” the creators should have been booted out of the office with a note to reception about never accepting their phone calls again.
That is not how the scenario actually played out, however. So what we have instead is a “nothing more, nothing less” movie about two handfuls of nondescript characters patiently waiting their turns at being eaten alive by a monster with no purpose other than to rend human flesh.
“Animal” is a cookie cutter thriller through and through and it doesn’t even get the formula right. Boozing college kids loading up the Jeep for a hard-partying weekend in the woods. Promiscuous sexpot in a string bikini teasing the smart-mouth nerd while the bad boy jock does the same and the virginal good girl tells them both to cut it out. These are just some of the overused tropes you wish “Animal” had upon realizing that the alternative is to make the script a desolate wasteland of uninteresting people and unfulfilled plotlines.
There are no beer bongs or boob flashes. Even shallow substance like that would be preferable to no substance at all. Instead, “Animal” introduces its main photogenic fivesome through a wordless car ride taken towards their hiking trail. An all-American male steers the wheel while his girlfriend sleeps in the passenger seat. Girl #2 rests on her sleeping boyfriend’s shoulder until she too conks out. Finally, their flamboyant fifth wheel friend pipes up with the first sign of personality by yelling annoyingly because he is wearing iPod earbuds.
For anyone keeping a tally, that is four characters “Animal” wants the viewer to invest an interest in by only providing scenes of them sleeping, and one character who is supposed to be charming comic relief because he makes hip references to Uber and Taylor Swift. Because that kind of trendy characterization is apparently hilarious.
Early on, one of the hikers finds a discarded backpack with an embroidered U.S. Marines patch. The first reaction is a groan that a military experiment and coverup gone wrong will be to blame for the rampaging creature. Except this meaningless clue dies on the vine while the movie uses midpoint exposition for revelations of pregnancies and love affairs that also have no bearing on anything. Once again, even a clichéd idea would be an improvement over no idea at all, as “Animal” decides to only give its monster fangs, claws, and nothing else, let alone a backstory.
The only reason “Animal” earns any credit at all is because visually, it looks sharp. Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s practical creature is undeniably the star of the show, and rightly so. Scott Winig’s cinematography deserves applause as well. Lighting forests at night is neither cheap nor easy, which is why so many low-budget movies look like mud when they are set in dark woods. Here, Winig competently gives “Animal” the sheen of a movie with all of its money visibly onscreen.
Should “Animal” ever be mentioned again for reasons unknown several years down the line, the first thing that will come to mind is a vague recollection of having been disappointed. Director Brett Simmons has made an entertaining film before from overdone source material with “The Monkey’s Paw” (review here), but any spark of uniqueness is sorely absent from “Animal.” I don’t know which is more astounding for a horror film released in 2014. That six producers were confident in this empty shell of a regurgitated idea being satisfying as 80 minutes of entertainment. Or that it took two writers to draft a screenplay that doesn’t even include a story.
NOTE: There is a brief mid-credits sting.
Review Score: 40