As our annual month in the woods flicks winds down for another annum, Animal, a 2014 flick by director Brett Simmons (You Might Be the Killer), found its way onto the Screening Room’s screen and from the jump, it REALLY aspired to be a John Carpenter flick.
They even used the same opening credits font and some slow-building synth music a la Carpenter’s peak output as the flick started. (Think Escape From New York, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, They Live, etc.)
That’s about where the similarities end.
Executive produced by Drew Barrymore, this is one of about four or five flicks with this title. For accuracy’s sake, this is not the one with Rob Schneider (2001’s The Animal), the newer-release 2023 Hindi crime flick that runs something like 3 1/2 hours or the 2005 one with Ving Rhames where he’s a fighter. What distinguishes this flick from the other ‘“Animals” is that this one has a creature that’s a combination mutant hybrid of a boar, a bear, a wolf and a wildebeest (or something else with hooves — could even be a deer).
I can’t tell for sure if those are the exact species the filmmakers and the production designer had in mind. Might be some snake in there, too. What does matter most is that the creature has big, nasty pointy teeth and big, nasty pointy claws that it uses to gut its prey.
They don’t reveal what the monster looks like until later, mostly because they have to do the Jaws thing and have a random character die to show that a menace is present early. It’s not until the second victim that we get a better look at what the folks in the woods are gonna have to deal with.
Nevertheless, the four people in the opening shot who were hauling butt through the pretty devoid-of-brambles-and-roots woods become three as Barbara, who had the misfortune of being the one who had to fall down in the script, is messily devoured, thus allowing the three remaining to run to the other side of the screen before the creature knows what’s going on because creatures gotta eat.
There’s the setup.
But in order to appease the formula for a woods flick, you have to have box-of-rocks young adults for the audience to look at and not just box-of-rocks middle-aged folks, so enter five more people who are going to stay at a cabin in the woods or visit a natural wonder that two of them used to go to a lot when they were younger and lived closer. Point is — they like the woods.
So there’s Alissa (Keke Palmer, Nope, Akeelah and the Bee); her boyfriend, Matt; social-media obsessed guy with earbuds Sean; Alissa’s stepbrother and the driver of the SUV, Jeff; and Alissa’s best friend/girlfriend of Jeff, Mandy (Elizabeth Gillies).
The road to their destination is blocked because the forest is slated for “regeneration,” whatever that means, so they have to park and walk. There’s also an abandoned Marine’s backpack that’s found while they’re wandering around, but whether the monster is a product of some top-grade military experiment run amok, an alien life form like in Crawler, which I reviewed earlier this year, or just a naturally occurring monster isn’t really an issue. The origin is never really explored, and it’s not a big deal, but I might have missed it.
Needless to say, daylight runs out on the kids pretty quick because of some poor decision-making on fearless leader Jeff’s part. Then they come across the monster’s snack stash and that abandoned backpack before meeting the monster. Somebody gets killed, they make it to a cabin and lo and behold, they decided to follow the siege flick math George Romero used in Night of the Living Dead (seven) rather than the typical cabin in the woods formula (five).
You can’t argue with math.
So now the only questions are — how many of em make it to the end, and are Joey Lauren Adams from Chasing Amy and a soap opera star named Thorsten going to be able to kill the monster?
Best Monologue: Sean talks about dying with a clear conscience near an open window with the monster outside, then confesses that he had a gay affair with Jeff, which doesn’t go over that well with Mandy.
Best Storage Practices for a Hungry Monster: The mutant hybrid predator has this cave full of bloody meat that it can go visit whenever the mood strikes. The kids don’t understand, though, and find it gross.
Best Effort: Carl tries to outwrestle the creature in the basement so Matt can be evacuated.
Best Admonishment by a Bound Individual: Mean, mad Douglas tells Carl that “Anything that happens to me, my blood is on your hands!”
Best Smooshing: The creature versus the Jeep.
Second-best Smooshing: What Doug does to an injured member of the group in order to create a diversion for the creature to chow down on. It doesn’t work.
Two and a half stars. A typical creature feature, but nothing that really distinguishes it from the average “genetic hybrid besieges folks, including attractive young adults, who are isolated in a vulnerable position with limited resources to mount a defense” flick.
Check it out for a limited time on TubiTV and also on FreeVee as well as other places, or you can get the physical media.
Just so you know, we’re going to get one more trip in the woods done and check out what an old friend’s up to by popular demand.