As far as creature features go, Animal is about as generically crafted as they come, but that might be serviceable enough for some of you (no judgement!). A group of hikers venture into a heavily wooded area and get caught stumbling around after sundown, some type of murderous creature pursues on foot, and a playful excursion turns into a fight for survival. People die, blood is spilled, and a monster roams free – but Chiller’s animalistic horror movie doesn’t do a darn thing to differentiate itself. Instead of finding myself cringing in fear at the very sight of these monsters, my first thought was “Oh look, they copied the Feast monsters!” I’ll admit, Animal is quick and relatively painless, but with a presence so duplicative, is all the running, screaming, and dying actually worthwhile?
While soaking in nature’s beauty during a nostalgic trip, five friends end up spending more time than expected hiking a childhood route and find themselves in a heap of trouble. While trying to make their way back to a parked car, the gang stumbles upon a creature enjoying some type of midnight snack, distracted until it realizes a whole mess of fresh meat just wandered down the wrong trail. Chasing the group into an abandoned house, three more survivors are found and the entire team reinforces the house to keep out whatever herded them all together. Can some wood planks over windows hold out a legitimate monster determined on feeding once again?
Animal is your typical schlocky creature feature with a visible bite but absolutely no substance, cognizant of its own strengths but still unable to capitalize on them. We go from zero to sixty in mere scenes, as the main characters discover the film’s wicked antagonist very early on, but from here everything becomes just a blur of running and hiding. There’s not much of a fight as survival turns into nothing more than playing Call Of Duty‘s Nazi Zombie mode with your friends, as window boards need to be replaced every time the “animal” attacks a new weak point. Writers Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo attempt to keep it simple, but in doing so an unfortunate redundancy is achieved when the monster’s attacks become a boring cycle – with predictability acting as the final nail in an unpolished story’s coffin.
Like any good lackluster horror film, Animal does nothing to build character depth or intrigue, as the lives of Jeremy Sumpter, Parker Young, Paul Iacono, Eve, and Joey Lauren Adams are nothing but body count fodder. Not only are they one-dimensional characters, but they’re also just plain stupid, ignoring obvious clues about their opponent’s history just so an ignorance-filled ending full of death can be approached. How many times are horror movie characters going to give a grand speech in front of a weakened door or window just so the monster can bust through mid-sentence and tear them a new one? Plus, watching Iacono stammer through a monologue filled with the word “like” every other half sentence is an incredibly painful affair, despite desperately trying to drum up some dramatic tension. Of course, any emotionality is thrown out the window when Elizabeth Gillies confusingly shows a more sorrowful reaction to a stranger’s death compared to when one of her own close friends bites it – or gets bitten, I should say.
Sizing up Animal‘s creature, veteran Hollywood magicians like Gary J. Tunnicliffe create a rubber-suit creature that looks adequately vicious, capturing the feel of a more technologically advanced 80s effect. Sharp fangs, knife-like claws, a muscular body – the monster looks every bit the part, but does spoil some of the illusion by lumbering around like a human. Characters aren’t really killed in a variety of ways either, as the “animal” apparently takes a liking to chowing down on a victim’s stomach, since this lets the effects team use the same rig during every death scene to minimize efforts. Again we call back to a redundancy and repetition that doesn’t even bother copying from other genre movies – Animal just copies itself.
Bless Drew Barrymore’s heart for producing two separate horror films this year, the other being a found-footage snoozer called Happy Camp, but unfortunately for Flower Films, Animal suffers the same mundane fate. Well, in all fairness, director Brett Simmons is able to bring more visual style to one scene of Animal than Happy Camp mustered over an entire film, but this creature feature still doesn’t display enough horror know-how to balance all the working parts of a successful genre project. Sure, a simple cat-and-mouse formula establishes the proper framework for any backwoods monster movie, but dragging characters off-screen gets old after a while – especially without any atmospheric tension or terror. Like I said, Animal has a foundation built for success, but that’s where the construction crew left it – hollow, unfinished, and without a touch of detail.
Animal has enough carnage to appease more forgiving horror fans, but despite a quick pace and brutal kills, it's repetition that truly kills this beast.