By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Olivia Luccardi, Lew Temple
Directed by Mark H. Young
Written by Mark H. Young, Adam Frazier
Produced by Alternate Ending Films
Cannibal zombie virus movie during a global pandemic? Yeah, why not.
FERAL follows Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton), her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi), and their group of friends as they hike through the woods looking for a nearby lake. Naturally, they get lost and camp in a random spot overnight, only for two of them to get mysteriously attacked in the middle of the night. Luckily a man named Talbot (Lew Temple) happens to own a cabin nearby, where he says he has medical supplies, food and water. But Talbot doesn’t seem optimistic about their friends’ recovery; quite the opposite, really. And Alice thinks she hears noises coming from under the floorboards; all the while, something may be stalking them in the woods, and her friend is getting sicker and sicker…
“You get why they’re called FERALS guys? It’s because the virus makes them act FERAL.”
If that sounds like a story you’ve heard before, it’s probably because it is. And look, I didn’t want to open the article on that note; I really wanted to like this film. It reminds me quite a bit of my favorite horror novel, Nick Cutter’s The Troop, crossed over with the video game Until Dawn. That is definitely not a bad thing by any means, and familiarity has never really been a problem here in the Sematary; it’s what the filmmakers bring to that familiar premise, the ways in which they take it and warp it and make it theirs, that serves to elevate the film above it’s precedents and establish it as an original work in it’s own right. The primary issue I have with FERAL is that while it IS entertaining, it is also very, very predictable. Viewers will likely guess Talbot’s whole deal before it’s revealed, the nature of the virus itself, (which the film doesn’t really try too hard to hide), and the resolution to the ethical questions the film tries to struggle with LONG, LONG before the film wraps up. And the film never really does enough in the way of action or… well, horror, to overcome this issue. In fact, knowing the outcome of every single thing the film will toss at you robs just about every scene of its tension.
The second issue I have with FERAL is that all the characters are or become annoying as fuck. Specifically Scout Taylor-Compton’s character. And look: I love Scout Taylor-Compton. She’s an excellent actress who brings everything to each role she plays, and she does the same with FERAL. She is single-handedly one of the reasons this film is watchable. But her character commits one of the worst story writing sins one can commit in this subgenre, one that will immediately get on the nerves of anyone who’s seen too many zombie films, and too many characters similarly struggle with their ethics only to realize they were being fucking stupid in the end. She adopts a Batman ethic, determined to avoid killing anyone at any cost. Being a doctor in training, I can see why this is an important arc for her character, and grappling with the moral ramifications of taking a life in any situation is what drives her character to develop and grow; however, I have seen far too many episodes of The Walking Dead to even slightly take this seriously, and my frustration mounted as the movie continued to invest capital in this meaningless, overused story arc. That frustration peaked when her aversion to taking lives led to obvious and foreseeable consequences. Don’t get me wrong, her character wasn’t the only annoying one: Landry Allbright’s character Gina was even worse, a stereotype given the ability to walk and talk. I get the sense that her weakness as a character was exaggerated so she could be a counterpoint to Alice, to emphasize the protagonist’s strength. All I can say is, she is that character you want to die very early on in a zombie apocalypse movie because she literally can’t handle anything; and spoiler alert, she doesn’t. At least not early on.
FERAL is not the worst movie I’ve seen. There are moments I can point to throughout the film that are extremely well shot. The creature design was decent, if not too original, and at least through the first half of the film I was invested in the characters’ fates. But in the end, this movie doesn’t deliver. I’m giving it a 3 out of 10. Maybe this movie is trying to be a meditation on the flexibility of our systems of morality and their ultimate fragility when confronted with difficult situations. But if it is, it doesn’t bring anything new to the conversation; at least, nothing that “The Walking Dead” hasn’t recapitulated in every single episode. Instead, FERAL hits all of the same beats you would see in any other zombie film, and does it less effectively; the main characters’ struggle with her morality feels more like a tropic box that needed to be checked than an attempt at communicating any kind of messaging. I wanted to love FERAL, but it ultimately came off as a pale imitation of it’s predecessors, a zombie in it’s own right.
I wanted to give Hulu some love, since they’re one of the streaming services I haven’t covered so far. I can’t quite manage that with this film, so I guess attention will have to do. We’ll give it another shot this Friday with “The Midnight Man.”
We’ve had a trend lately of coming across bad movies. Hang in there with us. We’ll find something much, much better to watch before long.
Stay safe everybody.