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“ANIMAL” (Blu-ray Review)

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Considering the standard that most networks have held their “made for TV” movies, Chiller’s original genre films have been surprisingly consistent. With entries such as 2013’s THE MONKEY’S PAW and BENEATH having previously impressed this writer in both solid writing and effective practical SFX, expectations were high for Brett Simmons’ creature feature ANIMAL, despite having not caught it on initial airing. Luckily, Scream Factory has once again partnered with Chiller to bring ANIMAL to Blu-ray, offering the frightening pick-’em-off flick in stunning high-definition.

While Fessenden’s BENEATH offered a tale of paranoia and betrayal under the guise of a creature feature, ANIMAL is much more of a return to the classic creature feature construct featuring many of the subgenre’s most recognizable tropes. But ANIMAL sets itself apart from other genre throwbacks by offering enough surprises, strong performances and intensity to ramp up more tension and keep the action fresh. But beyond that, ANIMAL offers one of the coolest looking monsters in recent memory: an original Gary J. Tunnicliffe creation that appears as biologically sound as it does terrifying.

As a story. ANIMAL is as basic as it is familiar: a group of young adults find themselves in a remote forest as they come under attack from an unknown beast, eventually barricading themselves in a cabin with weather survivors of the animal’s last attack. But what ANIMAL lacks in originality, the film makes up in deviations from the creature feature formula: the survival dynamics and character interaction is far from generic, which makes the action much more unpredictable. However, in its attempts to balance action and character drama, some characters are criminally underserved or remain one-dimensional until they come face to face with the titular terror.

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In light of that, credit should be given to director Brett Simmons for making good on the film’s premise, making ANIMAL less run-of-the-mill and more bloody than one might under studio constrictions. Furthermore, Simmons delivers in bringing Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo’s solid script to life, especially when organically hitting some of the more darkly comic moments. And while Scott Winig’s cinematography is standard and slick, it definitely lends itself to the film’s more intense moments, in particular a distraction-gone-wrong sequence about midway through the film.

As mentioned before, ANIMAL also sports some effective performances, which further helps ANIMAL remain memorable fright fare. Among the best faring are Elizabeth Gillies, Paul Iacono, Parker Young and Thorsten Kaye, who each subvert the expectations of their characters and give their respective characters an impressive amount of depth. Meanwhile, Keke Palmer and Jeremy Sumpter are both good in their roles, even if their characters are surprisingly one-dimensional, although that’s more of a writing issue than performance problem. And unfortunately, Amaury Nolasco and Joey Lauren Adams, while offering their best, are in the most thankless, generic roles of the bunch, and sadly are rather forgettable.

Scream Factory and Chiller have given ANIMAL a good amount of features alongside the great video and audio transfer, the crown jewel of which is an enthusiastic and informative commentary track by the affable Simmons. The interviews with the cast on the disc are enthusiastic, if expected, and the Behind the Scenes featurette offers a better look at the production in action. Otherwise the film comes with a teaser and theatrical trailer as well as the Scream Factory’s reversible cover art. Overall, ANIMAL is a much better than expected tale of terror than one might expect from the premise, and Scream Factory gives it a release that’ll keep both collectors and casual horror fans happy.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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