900x525_Gallery_04It seems almost uncharitable to pick apart the new horror film Animal, a mix of guy-in-a rubber-suit monster movie and dumb-ass-kids-in-the-woods slasher flick. It delivers as much entertainment as one might expect from a movie with a tag line, “Fear lives in the woods,” and a poster that features the snarling muzzle of an unnatural beast with about four different rows of fanged teeth. You go into this one expecting an easy, cheesy ride with one or two scares, maybe a ripped bodice, bad acting, worse dialog, predictable twists, and one chick left standing at the end.

And voila.

What is frustrating about Animal is that it does a few things well enough that the viewer begins to hope for something more than the lowest common denominator of the generic genre formula.  Those hopes are undercut, however, by a screenplay that is riddled with novice mistakes, leaving the movie as a what-you-see-is-what-you-get, Friday night creature feature for adolescent boys.

The set-up is simplicity itself. Five young people overstay their welcome in what is meant to be a day hike in the woods. Darkness falls. Cue the howls. And how the filmmakers handle the darkness and the howls are two of the strongpoints. Almost all of the action takes place at night – a good deal of it in the woods – yet the lighting is perfect. The sound engineers also turn in outstanding work. A number of the jolts come aurally, and the noise and the soundtrack always seem to be at the right level. While we’re talking about sound, hats off to Elizabeth Gillies who plays Mandy. She has a great scream, not shrill, with nice throaty timbre that plays well in the horror genre.

Most of the cast, Gillies included, comes from television. The biggest name on screen is Eve, the hip hop artist who also has a self-titled UPN TV show. The bigger name in the credits, however, is Drew Barrymore who served as one of the executive producers. Pity that Drew was not a bit more hands on with the screenwriters here. Perhaps she could have relayed that good writing made her scene in Scream the highlight of that film.

Writers Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo fill the script with unnecessary faux conflict, whether it’s the bickering between stepbrother and stepsister that delays the group from leaving the woods or an argument over the sexual preference of one of the creature’s early victims that borders on parody. The driving force of the narrative is who gets eaten in what order – hold the sides, hold the subplots.

It’s already bad enough that we have to digest lines like, “Don’t let your beautiful brain spiral out of control because you can’t figure out something.” Don’t make it worse by having Amaury Nolasco (Sucre from Prison Break – yeah, baby) playing the Turd in the Punch Bowl, petuntantly sitting on the sidelines, saying how they’re all going to die. We already know that – you can tell by the barricades that wouldn’t stand up to the first huff and puff from the Big Bad Wolf. Nolasco does redeem himself by going absolutely crazy at one point so convincingly that the other actors gawk at him as if asking, “Did he really just do that?”

Then there’s the creature. Picture a mix of Predator, Alien, the Fly (Vincent Price version), and a werewolf  from The Howling on the body of a molting Big Foot. In other words, it’s fine. No explanation is offered as to its origin although there’s a half-hearted effort at the outset to tie it to logging, but no need to let our beautiful brains spiral out of control over that.

One and a half stars.

  1. 1.5 stars out of 4 or 1.5 stars out of 5? i don’t understand your ratings 😦

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