The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FERAL"

Feral

It's always fun when a horror movie comes along and executes a semi-familiar formula with style and energy. Feral does just that. On the surface, it may seem like something you've seen before. When you actually watch it, though, you realize that it's trying to subvert those "I know who's doing to die next" cliches, and there's an admirable focus on characterization. That gives this raw, disturbing film a real kick.

The story is about a group of friends who go camping in the woods. They are not alone. What's out there isn't exactly a monster, but rather a human male that has – as the title suggests – become feral, thanks to some sort of virus. He's very, very hungry. Several of the campers are brutally attacked by this person. There's also a cabin where those lucky enough to dodge him end up. Obviously, the “secret” of what's going on rests there. Lew Temple plays Talbot, the man who lives in the cabin and therefore has all the answers.

Sounds more or less like something you've seen before -- a standard-issue contagion thriller, right? Not so fast. The main appeal of Feral is that it's got some creative human angles to equal its horror. The lead character is Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton), and this trip is a chance to develop her new relationship with Jules (Olivia Luccardi). Through the ordeal, they end up bonding in ways they hadn't planned.

Adding a complication to the situation is the fact that one of the victims is Alice's best friend, Brie (Renee Olstead). Because she's been infected via a bite, it's only a matter of time before she turns feral, too. The story asks what you would do if you knew that someone you cared about was going to enter such a state, then possibly come after you. Would you kill them, or try to save them even though there's seemingly a limit to what can be done?

This set-up leads to the heart of the movie. Alice is desperate to save Brie, yet also desperate to make sure Jules doesn't get infected, too. They've found love, so if Jules gets bit, the romance will be cut short, never getting to fulfill its potential. The most tense part of Feral is wondering what the eventual cost to Alice will be. Scout Taylor-Compton is excellent in her role, showing how this young woman is vulnerable and tough in equal measure, as well as how those qualities shift back and forth rapidly as new threats emerge. The screenplay by director Mark H. Young and Adam Frazier builds her arc to an emotional conclusion that feels earned. (Full disclosure: Frazier is a fellow film critic. He and I have been Facebook friends and mutual Twitter followers for a number of years.)

Feral has some impressively disgusting gore and make-up effects, plus a wicked scene involving a bear trap. Sequences in which the “creature” attacks its prey are effectively photographed and staged, pulling no punches in the gruesomeness department. The human element is what really makes the film shine, though. Obviously, this is not the first movie to feature a creepy cabin in the woods or a virus that turns people into bloodthirsty fiends. Even so, it's well-acted and a solid example of how to build tension by first creating characters the audience can get invested in.

Feral is a fine addition to the recent string of well-crafted, ambitious indie horror flicks.

( out of four)


Feral is unrated, but contains graphic violence and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.


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