Studio: Midnight Releasing
Director: Quin Davis
Writer: Quin Davis
Producer: Richard Davis, Doreen Davis, Quin Davis
Stars: Megan Davis, Caitlin Singer, J.A. “Cuffs” Bratten, Brandon Lee Pittman, Tiffany Ann B, John Bernath
Film students discover the dark secret of Copper Queen Community Hospital as they document the building’s haunted history.
In the realm of low-budget horror films, the additional adjective of “independent” is often used when “amateur” would be more appropriate. “Animus” belongs in that second grouping.
“Amateur” is not an automatic negative association. It only means that expectations should be tempered to expect certain production values to be rough and for the look to be less than what is typically projected in a theater. That said, although “Animus” fares better than other amateur horror efforts, particularly in the camera department, first time feature director Quin Davis still shows all of his cards when it comes to restricted resources, budget, and an inexperienced cast. Better than others does not mean it is particularly good. And “Animus” is not particularly good.
There are plenty of absolutes in horror that are guaranteed ways to die. Camping in the woods and/or having premarital teenage sex are certainly at the top of the list. Rising fast since the popularity boom in “found footage” is exploring a haunted asylum. “Animus” is not “found footage,” but its characters have the poor sense to ghost hunt in an abandoned building with a questionable past nonetheless.
Old enough to pass for teachers, Maya and her friends are college students putting together a documentary on Copper Queen Community Hospital. As required by federal law governing all horror movie premises, Copper Queen once played host to strange disappearances and unauthorized experimentation on patients. The doctor in charge might have continued his crimes if not for the revenge perpetrated by his bastard son and former patient Isaac. Although Isaac was eventually shot to death and buried in a shallow grave, it seems he may still inhabit the hospital halls and he does not take kindly to uninvited visitors.
What Isaac is and why he has an insatiable urge to growl and murder with his blade arm are mysteries. But the actor who plays Isaac as a youth is clearly Hispanic while the actor playing Isaac as an adult is made to look like a deranged white hillbilly. It can only be presumed that Isaac underwent some kind of racial transmogrification that turned him into a bloodthirsty monster.
Backstory provisions are not the movie’s strong suit. Having to urinate every few minutes constitutes character development for one of Maya’s unfortunate friends. Lead actress Megan Davis as Maya exhibits flashes of a good performance, which indicates that scenes where her performance plummets through the cellar can be partly blamed on directing. There is a sense that some of the stilted dialogue delivery across the entire cast list could have been improved with a few more takes or another rehearsal.
Elsewhere, the acting similarly ranges between tolerable and terrible. Only a coin flip can decide which is more unbelievable: the performance of the actor playing an abusive ex-boyfriend, or the fact that the heroine would have anything to do with this loser.
“Animus” flogs dead horse territory for a solid hour. As Maya and company uncover the hospital’s haunted history, they encounter a surly shopkeeper who plays the role of “Mr. Exposition,” townsfolk dismissive of intrusive young outsiders, an old man who warns the trespassers of imminent death, and assorted other horror film stereotypes.
The action does kick into gear once the group finds their way into the hospital bowels, however. Quin Davis’ bailiwick is FX. Having saved virtually every trick for the final act, all of the fireworks are let loose at once. The makeup is not refined, edges are visible around prosthetic seams for instance, but “Animus” is unafraid to cover the cast in gore. The dummies are easily distinguished from their human counterparts, but there is a zeal in how the faux body parts are pummeled with pickaxes and poked out eyeballs. It lacks polish, but it has heart.
If the other disciplines exhibited this level of passion to their art, “Animus” might have earned a recommendation based on good intentions. While it rises above the detritus in visuals, that commitment to detail is missing virtually everywhere else. Audio particularly suffers. Most scenes have that distinguishable tinny echo of words bouncing off walls that mar similarly low-budget productions. Even when microphones are employed with the right intention, they are still used improperly. While listening to the shopkeeper’s muffled narrative, the peaking audio levels can be seen in the mind’s eye as the volume is recorded into distortion.
With so much emphasis on the back portion’s gorefest, it might not be out of line to theorize that “Animus” saved its energy for the bloodbath and painted by numbers on the way there. Inconsistent audio. All over the place acting. Even portions of the story have a sheen of shrugged shoulders to them. (The hospital received funding based on maintaining its number of patients. That is when patients started disappearing. So how exactly do missing patients keep the money rolling in?) There is a sidebar from a phony “Ghost Chasers” show that is funny for an instant, but goes on to the point of befuddlement. This is one example of how “Animus” tosses things into the movie without a noticeable care for how everything plays.
There are worse low-budget amateur horror films out there, but that is neither an endorsement nor a compliment. “Animus” has some good intentions. It just cannot hurdle over its glaring technical limitations.
Review Score: 30