For horror fans that are tired of werewolves and fed up with zombies, but looking for that same enticing pull of an isolated panic induced by violent contagion, I encourage you to check out Feral from writer/director Mark Young and IFC Midnight.
In Feral, a group of medical students go on a camping trip to celebrate the end of their studies. The three couples include our lead protagonists, Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton – Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Ghost House) and her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi – It Follows, Channel Zero).
As one would expect with an “into the woods” horror, these kids are not alone out there. A vicious, feral, humanoid creature attacks one of the couples in the middle of the night (immediately following a marriage proposal, no less), leaving him dead and her mortally wounded.
The remaining campers find the bloody scene and escape with their injured friend to find shelter. They encounter Talbot (Lew Temple – The Walking Dead, The Devil’s Rejects) – a local man of the woods – who provides a safe haven as the group splits up to get help.
Now, I’m just going to take a quick moment to address one of the film’s shortfalls. The secondary characters are kind of cobbled together with slap-dash points of interest in an attempt to make the audience connect with them during their few minutes of screen time.
For example, the marriage proposal. It’s not entirely necessary, but it serves as an easy point to try and attach some kind of emotion to the following attack. The character proposes, then leaves the tent to relieve himself in the woods, and tragedy ensues.
Now, perhaps I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel like if you’re building up to a marriage proposal, you wouldn’t leave 5 seconds later to go to the bathroom. Maybe you’d do that beforehand?
Anyways, logistics of timing your proposal around your bathroom breaks aside, my point is that there are a few moments of haphazardly crammed-in character details. That being said, there are plenty of strong points to Feral that outweigh this missed step.
The concept behind these feral creatures feels fresh. They’re similar to some familiar monsters – zombies, werewolves, and vampires – but as fantastical as the creatures seem, the threat is not supernatural. It’s something new, unknown, and rooted in the very real danger of a mysterious contagion.
While the creatures only come at night, their prowess as hunters means that no one is truly safe after dark. With a mortally wounded friend and no help in sight, our heroines are fighting the clock to survive. As the sun goes down, a prickling tension leaves the viewer watching every shadow for that sinister flicker of movement.
The film itself is kind of like The Descent by way of Cabin Fever. Steady action and building intensity keep the pace moving right along.
I recently spoke to Scout Taylor-Compton about Feral and her role as the fiercely capable Alice. She’s a caregiver and a healer, but she’s got a killer instinct (courtesy of her rural upbringing).
Alice and Jules show solid LGBT representation – their relationship headlines in this “couples retreat gone horribly wrong” horror film. These women are a constant and healthy source of support for one another, openly discussing their fears of coming out to family members and providing crisis-mode backup in equal measure.
Alice keeps control and exhibits a great emotional strength, but her confidence falters. Because of this, she’s extraordinarily relatable. Alice is just moving through the crisis one step at a time – she doesn’t have the obnoxious swagger of someone who’s got it all figured out. She knows she’s vulnerable, but she doesn’t let that break her.
Feral has an incredible female focus. I absolutely loved the fact that it completely scrapped the male gaze. This film is about women and their relationships and their fight for survival, and a lesser film would have turned that into gratuitous T&A shots and “girl-on-girl action” straight out of a porn keyword search.
Now, a character’s sexuality can be powerful when it’s used well. Take, for example, Wonder Woman’s balance of beauty, compassion, and unstoppable brawn. But, that being said, it’s no secret that horror films tend to use female sexuality to strip away their power. Horror movies are stereotypically known for their scenes of a scantily clad victim traipsing through the scene of the crime.
Feral treated its female characters the same way that it treated the men – they weren’t eye candy; they didn’t use their sexuality as a power play, they were just women.
The film’s climactic finale is not buried in exposition – it opens a wound and lets it breathe. It infects you with this nibbling curiosity; an itch you can’t quite scratch. Feral gets under your skin in a delicious way.
You can watch Feral now in select theatres or VOD. Check out the trailer below.