Students fight to survive a weekend in the woods.
May 25th, 2018
In this latest film on my review to-do list, there’s a line of dialogue so terribly written – all I need to do to properly illustrate the poor quality of the entire film (this one line is a symptom of the bigger problem, if you will) is to simply print said line of dialogue for all to see.
A med student is in the middle of a viral/zombie crisis and it has been suggested that she should kill one of the victims (who will undoubtedly turn and try to kill them). Her response? Prepare yourself…
“I’m a doctor. I save lives. I don’t take them.”
Welcome to one of the latest films out of the IFC Midnight catalog – Feral.
Six college chums (3 couples – 2 straight couples and 1 lesbian couple) are happy to be on their vacation away from the rigors of medical school. So they go on a camping trip into the remote woods to chill. But they’re attacked by some sort of man-monster who tears its victims’ bodies to shreds, effectively turning them into monster/zombies. It’s a fight for survival, led by Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton of Rob Zombie’s Halloween) and her girlfriend Jules (It Follows’ Olivia Luccardi).
I often like to say that I pride myself on finding the golden ticket of something worthwhile in even the worst of films. And while there have been a relatively few number of films where that just wasn’t possible – obviously, it’s a rare occurrence.
But Feral falls into that very rare category – for you see – there is absolutely nothing of value in this film. A waste of time, a perfect example of bad film-making and a plethora of poor performances.
Where to begin?
In a sea of establishing shots of the cabin – we are continually shown an ax embedded in a tree stump outside. Naturally, you will (as I was) be expecting that ax to come into play at some point. It never does. On that same token, while in the basement of said cabin – one of the characters happens upon a random baseball bat, which proves to be quite handy in a difficult situation. Was that bat ever established, in order to make it more reasonable for later use, and less convenient? No. No it was not. Sigh.
Other than a semi-decent performance from Lew Temple of The Walking Dead (so I’ll take back the “nothing of value”, but barely), every performance was dreadful. I’ve pointed out the acting term “indicating” in previous reviews, but the use of that word here – has never been more appropriate. Basically, every actor attempts to “show” us (i.e. indicate) what their character is feeling. “This is how I think the character would show fear or regret or sadness.” Rather than just doing it – it’s all a great big game of “pretend”. There was nary a moment of genuine authenticity or jarring emotion to be had here. Feral is a prime example of some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen. And I’m not exaggerating.
The biggest criminal here is Olivia Luccardi (whom I recall enjoying in It Follows). Even in such simple things as body language, she couldn’t convince me. There’s a scene late in the film where three characters are perched on a couch. Things are quite dire for these people, but Luccardi leans back on the sofa, with her arm lazily above her head, as if the three girls are at a slumber party, talking about boys. And that’s just one of the endless acting choices she makes – which are forced and inauthentic.
With that, I can also bring up the extremely conspicuous lack of any urgency on the part of the characters. After the first attack in the woods, and one of the six is dead (having been mauled) and another is gravely injured – the group don’t even attempt to get out of the woods and back to their car. Yes, it’s dangerous to travel in the night, when they don’t know what’s out there. But I didn’t buy that they wouldn’t even try.
They also leave the corpse of the dead friend behind and settle in for an apparently restful sleep. And they use “we can’t travel at night” at least two more times in the film.
There’s also the movement of another friend’s diseased/beat-up body. And again – the s*** has really hit the fan by this point. And yet the lesbian couple stop to “rest”, but instead have a meaningful conversation for a few minutes, while their friend is directly in front of them on a stretcher – dying. When does adrenaline kick in and force you to overcome fear and exhaustion and tired arms?
I also had a problem with the group’s reaction to woodsy hermit Talbot (Temple). He helps the group, but there’s an immediate (and wholly unearned) suspicion from Alice. Even after he has explained what is happening in these woods – and it’s all been verified by Alice’s own experiences – she still treats him like a nemesis. Makes zero sense.
There are so many continuity errors and bits which completely strain credibility. When that aforementioned first victim goes off in the night to urinate and is then killed – he screams. A lot. And yet no one hears him. Did he walk a couple of miles away to pee? And then when his significant other ventures out to look for him, she gets there in a matter of seconds, and is attacked. She also screams and the other campers hear her immediately. And when the woman is attacked, she drops her lantern and sprints away. When she is found by her friends later, the lantern is right by her side. I simply can’t endure issues like this. Convenience to fit in with your boring, lazy story — only makes your film worse.
While the locations used look great – the high establishing shots of a lush Oregonian forest (that’s my guess) don’t remotely match the areas where the action actually takes place. It’s clearly not the same type of landscape – and such attention to details is a must.
There’s a difference between paying homage and ripping something off. It’s easy to say an awful film like Feral was attempting to pay tribute to horror films of the past. You’ve got The Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead and The Descent. You won’t have to look far to see where these filmmakers borrowed from these far superior horror outings. But if these little inside jokes are contained in something terrible, it’s no longer an homage to me. It’s ripping off something better, because the filmmakers know they’ve got nothing new to offer.
The make-up and gore effects are not-good to simply passable. Any potential “boo” moments don’t quite work, ‘cause you’ll see them coming from a mile away. And since we care nothing about anyone in this film, any attempts at suspense never make it. A horror film which isn’t the least bit scary or unsettling. I think that can be defined as a fail.
Feral is a collection of terrible performances, painful examples of awful dialogue (all throughout) and an irritating mountain of “cabin in the woods” cliches.
We’ve seen these ideas before, but never presented so appallingly. And frankly, my ½ star rating is generous, because the powers-that-be won’t allow me to go any lower.
Feral is now playing in limited theatres and is available on VOD.