By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring José Ángel García, Julio Sandoval and Gastón Melo
Written and Directed by Andrés Kaiser
Found footage films have some explaining to do. No, they do not need to justify their existence – we already know from THE BLAIR PROJECT, MAN BITES DOG, and CLOVERFIELD that the format works exceptionally well for crafting terror. Rather, when a filmmaker decides to tell their story through found footage, we need to know why. And especially why the running, screaming people never put their camera down? Why would these people be performing the unnatural act of talking directly into a camera? One quite effective reason that the camera is rolling is a documentary. If something terrible has happened, as often happens in horror film, it makes sense that a crew would be sent in to document the incident and try to tell the truth. FERAL takes the documentary approach, and offers a mockumentary which takes on some weighted topics, all under the shadow of deaths.
FERAL opens with news footage of the incident in question. There has been a terrible fire out in the Oaxacan forest, and four bodies have been found in the ashes. Locals are interviewed about who may have been living in the house at the time of the fire, and no one seems to have very solid answers. The house was remote, in the mountains, and whoever lived there kept to themselves. Through further investigation and on-camera interviews we learn who these people were, and what incidents lead to their deaths.
Juan Felipe de Jesús González (Hector Illanes) had been living in that house alone for some time. We learn, in interviews with his few friends and acquaintances, that he had an unusual history. Juan was a monk in his youth. He followed in his big brother’s footsteps and joined a nearby monastery that was a little different than most. It encouraged psychoanalysis, and even encouraged its monks to do group therapy sessions together, to increase their bond with god and each other. Even so, Juan did not stay at the monastery for long.
After relocating to his remote mountain home, Juan comes across a wild animal who, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a young feral boy. Juan makes it his mission to take the boy into his home and teach him what it is to be human or, at least, his version of what it is to be human.
All of this it told through documentary footage and interviews with “experts” in their fields and people who knew Juan personally. For added intrigue and gravity, accounts of true life feral children are woven into the tales. Though FERAL falters a bit on diving in to the big questions it poses, the film does take on some major topics within the guise of it mockumentary. It deals most directly with religion and psychology, but there are some winks towards the cycle of abuse in both, and it questions the very nature of saviours and white knights.
Starting FERAL with a body count could have undercut a less tactful film’s sense of mystery and terror, but here it only deepens its curiosity. The more we learn about Juan and his background, the more we want answers to our burning questions. Director Andrés Kaiser is keenly aware of what the audience might be wondering at any given time, and leaks us just enough information to keep the mystery alive.
FERAL uses its mockumentary format to its advantage, and keeps us guessing right up to the very end.