Over the last decade or so, zombies have been all the range in horror. In fact, zombies have been something of a rare crossover sensation. But there are signs that even the zombie can suffer from some rigor mortis. The Walking Dead, for instance, has continued to bleed audiences in its most recent season. Though 2018 has seen a couple of inventive zombie outings, one gets the impression there isn’t much left to do with the concept. Case in point, IFC Midnight’s zombie-‘lost-in-the-woods’ hybrid, Feral.
Six recent medical school grads head off into the woods for a weekend camping trip. But on their first night, one member of the group wanders off alone. A ‘feral’ human-like creature brutally rips him apart. Another member of the group is seriously injured. When a man named Talbot arrives and offers the group shelter, safety and rescue feel like they’re close at hand. But Tablot is hiding a secret and there’s something stalking through the woods. No one is safe once an ‘infection’ quickly spreads through the survivors.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Stop me if you’re heard this one. A group of young adults head off into the woods, get lost, and confront some unspeakable horror. Feral’s creators have clearly watched Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods, The Evil Dead, and just about every camping-themed 80’s horror movie. Unfortunately, Feral offers absolutely nothing new to the premise. Given that we’re several years removed from Cabin in the Woods’ complete subversion of the premise, Feral feels all the more guilty for its lack of inventiveness.
Given that we’re several years removed from Cabin in the Woods’ complete subversion of the premise, Feral feels all the more guilty for its lack of inventiveness.
The inclusion of zombies, or ‘feral humanoids’, doesn’t really help. Over the last decade or so, horror fans have seen countless zombie movies. Many of these movies have cleverly fiddled with the concept to offer fans something fresh. Just this year, we’ve seen movies like Cargo and The Cured adopt the zombie to tell wholly unique stories. But you can forget about any subtext in Feral. The movie doesn’t have much to say about anything, which would be fine if it was exciting or, you know, kind of scary.
Feral Shuffles Through Its Story Like an Old-School Zombie
Feral’s ‘zombies’ may move fast, but its pacing is strictly old-school zombie. In fact, Feral’s most grievous sin is being kind of boring. Some of this can be chalked up to the story’s unmistakable familiarity. But director Mark Young’s ‘stop and go’ pacing is a guilty party. For most of its runtime, Feral is more ‘stop’ than ‘go’ with frequent gaps in the action and horror. This isn’t a case of an old-fashioned ‘slow-burn’ approach. In spite of a rousing start, Young fails to build much momentum. As a result, the stronger horror elements feel like disconnected bits rather than part of mounting tension.
Feral is Technically Competent in Most Regards
Keep in mind, Feral isn’t a terrible movie. It’s a technically competent movie in just about every regard. Feral looks and sounds good. Similarly, the performances are universally good, if not unremarkable. Rob Zombie favourites, Scout Taylor-Compton and Lew Temple anchor much of the movie. Sadly, the always reliable Lew Temple is under-utilized. Taylor-Compton gives a much better performance than what she delivered in Zombie’s Halloween movies. Though she’s the most interesting character on screen, she’s given little interesting with which to work. No one else stands out through no fault of their own. Adam Frazier and Mark Young’s screenplay doesn’t flesh out any of its characters beyond one-note stereotypes.
Feral is Serviceable But Lacks Bite
Feral is a completely unremarkable movie that may be serviceable if you have low expectations. Derivative and dull, Feral offers a few fun splatter moments, particularly towards the end, that may make it an adequate time-waster. The special effects certainly deliver the good. But the movie makes a good case that it may be time for the zombie to shuffle back to the grave. Personally, I’d like to see werewolves make a comeback.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C