By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Olivia Luccardi and Lew Temple
Directed by Mark H. Young
Written by Mark H. Young and Adam Frazier
The setup of the fast-paced backwoods bio-horror romp FERAL is deliciously deranged: Take a gaggle of recent medical-school graduates, send them off into the wilderness for a last-hurrah-before-much-delayed-adulthood camping trip, let them humblebrag about all the riches and/or epidemiological glory their newly accredited skill sets will reap…and then unleash upon them a virulent pathology that they can neither understand nor in any way effectively counter.
It is, in short, the mashup of GREY’S ANATOMY, THE EVIL DEAD, 28 DAYS LATER and THE DESCENT you never knew you wanted, complete with a sly little subtext about the oft-overlooked fragility of the modern advanced civilization and enlightenment we put so much trust in, yet nevertheless always teeters on the edge of the abyss. To go the Shakespeare route, “There are more things in heaven and Earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy”—and some of these “things” just happen to be resurrected humanoid beasts hankering to chew on necks, intestines and more.
But let’s rewind a bit: Before we even meet our soon-to-be not-so-happy campers, it’s clear we’re in for some nastiness. The opening credits play out across the backdrop of a woman tied to a bed in an unfinished, rough-hewn basement, writhing and screaming, her eyes animal yellow. A man dolefully observes her for a couple of minutes, then dispatches her execution-style. Cut to the aforementioned campers, all waxing nostalgic and philosophical at turns, having the casual gumption to assume their entire lives are ahead of them when for many, the end of the trail is already in view. There’s a bunch of horror vets here—Scout Taylor-Compton (the Rob Zombie HALLOWEENs), Olivia Luccardi (IT FOLLOWS), Lew Temple (31, THE WALKING DEAD) and Renee Olstead (UNFRIENDED, THE MIDNIGHT GAME)—and that experience pays off as they individually and collectively slip right into the chaos in an admirably naturalistic and transporting manner.
Disbelief duly suspended, we move on to the requisite campfire scene, in which it is revealed that there are underlying tensions amongst the ranks—a love triangle, etc. Writer (with Adam Frazier) and director Mark H. Young keeps this exposition mercifully short—hey, I love KICKING AND SCREAMING too, but this genre is neither the time nor the place—and long before embers turn to ash, our monster is up on the board with his first victim dead and another perilously wounded. To save their friend’s life, the gang totes the injured young lady to an isolated cabin in the woods occupied by the isolated and increasingly sketchy Talbot [Temple]. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to answer that question in detail. Suffice it to say, our erstwhile physicians are soon besieged by evil from both within and without, and their struggle is not made any easier by the secrets Talbot keeps. At this point, it really is all over ’cept the surviving.
It’s true that, as any seasoned genre fan can undoubtedly surmise, no single element of FERAL is particularly novel or groundbreaking. But Young does a bang-up job of putting it all together in a unique, suspenseful, engrossing and—most importantly—legitimately scary way. The film boasts a brisk pace, several pulse-accelerating encounters, rampaging grotesqueries and solid, nuanced performances by essentially the entire cast. If that’s not quite worth sacrificing a few future urologists, primary-care physicians and epidemiologists, it’s pretty damn close.