Directed by Mark Young.
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Olivia Luccardi, Lew Temple, Renee Olstead, Brock Kelly, Landry Allbright, and George Finn.
Students fight to survive a weekend in the woods.
IFC Midnight’s latest “don’t go into the woods” condemnation (in little over a month) is Mark Young’s Feral, which – not subtlety – can be described as “The Wildling meets The Descent above ground.” Med schoolers adventure into Mother Nature’s den, confront a bloodthirsty foe and are taken in by a middle-of-nowhere hermit – it’s nothing you’ve yet to experience as a genre fan. Inhuman creature skulking is on-all-fours animalistic (and suitably unsettling), but established midnight creeps are weighed down by insincere exposition meant to personalize student bodies who one-by-one succumb to infectious bites. Your standard Monster Mashing 101, nary a shock beyond feisty-enough defense modes.
On the plus side, Feral speeds zero-to-sixty into action. During our outdoor retreaters’ first night of wilderness isolation, poor Matt (George Finn) gets his intestines ripped out whilst weeing behind a tree (after proposing to his girlfriend, no less). His fiancée is found shortly after, badly gashed. The group (made up of Scout Taylor-Compton, Olivia Luccardi, Brock Kelly and more) hightails it for help and stumbles upon a grizzled man – Talbot (Lew Temple) – who lives alone. His cabin provides safety, but soon it’s revealed that their new home-away-from-home could be the patient zero location as far as woodland lurkers are concerned. Who is this man and what’s up with his basement handcuffs-and-cot situation? Nothin’ good.
Now, you might think sprinting headfirst into a vampire/werewolf/groundling hide-and-seek escape is the right way to go. Characters exist to be hunted – bring on the gore! Young abides, and one can’t deny that Feral has an equal bite to match pitch-black guttural barks. Splatter is plenty bloody and respectfully practical, as to imitate the savageness of hungry beasts tearing flesh from bone. Young’s diseased villains are malicious only because they’re starved for a meal, nothing more. Their habits inspired by wolves and bears who’re fixtures on “No Trespassing” signs, only with mustard-yellow eyes and morphed demonic features.
Simplicity is also a fault of Feral, in that tension is underdeveloped and victims are only that – lambs thrown to the slaughter. A few minutes of separated tent talking reveals one lesbian couple and two other relationships in different dramatic stages, but we never care for background information past their medicinal studies programs. Same goes for Temple’s mountain-man act and obvious connection to the creatures who stalk each night. There is brutality in feasting and legitimate struggling when ferocity is called upon, if only to mask a rather formulaic repetition of safe-in-daylight/fear-the-night tradeoffs. Monsters bite, the infection spreads, you become another minion of darkness – streamlined, that’s for certain.
Young and co-writer Adam Frazier’s intentions are pure of heart in that they want to craft an old-school slaughter flick built on staple horror sketchings, which they do. It’s just that fans have seen such manipulations of primal subgenres dive deeper than Feral. Something like Afflicted, which utilizes the same squeamish body contorting and vampiric forms with more exploratory results. Or The Wildling, which injects stimulating maturation notes instead of numbing second-bill story agents. Here friends bicker out of paranoia, fight against an “insane” man who could actually help, keep bitten companions bound in hopes of a cure only to get more people killed – charted territory trampled by rampant creative overuse.
Yet, let me play another card – the gender card. One can appreciate how Feral maims and guts its male characters while strong females take control, most assertively Scout Taylor-Compton and Olivia Luccardi. Humbly and with natural grace. Genre films still often fall victim to female arcs outside of scream queens leaning heavily into pawn sacrifice or sex-pot seduction additives, yet these characters hone wide-eyed urgency. Plotting may steer them a predictable forward passage through fang-sharpened hell, but if there’s a resonating positive that sticks, it’s this upper hand. Never made into a gimmick.
For better or worse, Feral can be mapped within minutes as to the horrors that will certainly unfold. That’s not to say Mark Musashi and Levi Ashlyn’s creature acting doesn’t make for some genuinely menacing deer-in-headlights encounters. Nor should XX chromosome favoritism be ignored once blood spills under the pale moonlight. Mark Young’s paint-by-numbers creature epidemic is accessible in its breezy assertion of horror beginnings, but may leave more advance genre fans scratching an itch for something more involved. Keep that in mind as the bodies pile and lurch back to “life,” will you?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★★