ANIMAL (2014) Blu-ray
Director: Brett Simmons
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Scream Factory goes down to the woods to hunt an ANIMAL on their Blu-ray of the Chiller Network's latest feature offering.

Stepsiblings Jeff (Parker Young, TV's SUBURGATORY) and Alissa (former child star Keke Palmer of AKEELAH AND THE BEE) drag their respective mates Mandy (Elizabeth Gillies, Nikelodeon's VICTORIOUS) and Matt (Jeremy Sumpter, 2003's PETER PAN) and obnoxious, flamingly gay fifth wheel Sean (Paul Iacono, 2009's FAME) deep into the Holland Creek woods on a hike to their childhood hangout. Things get tense as night falls and they get lost, but they are soon running for their lives from a creature that that has eaten its way through the food chain from bears to stray hikers. Jeff is killed by the beast while diverting its attention from the others who stumble upon a barricaded cabin inhabited by stranded motorists Carl (THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL's Thorsten Kaye), his wife Doris (DAZED AND CONFUSED's Joey Lauren Adams), and Douglas (PRISON BREAK's Amaury Nolasco). While Carl and Doris want the newcomers to help them fortify the barricades (which were already there before they arrived, suggesting that others before them were not so lucky), the pessimistic Douglas – who has already lost his wife (rapper Eve in a blink-and-you'll-miss it cameo) during the opening teaser – wants to make a run for it. Since Carl has observed that the creature seems to slow down after eating, Douglas suggests that they just need to give it something to chew on. As the in-fighting results in increasing paranoia and the occasional casualty, Alissa comes to believe that the creature is intelligent and has actually herded them into this rickety sanctuary and has to be outwitted instead of outrun.

Produced for the Chiller network by actress Drew Barrymore of all people, ANIMAL is a very cookie-cutter monster in the woods movie from director Brett Simmons (who also helmed THE MONKEY'S PAW for Chiller, and falling short of the promise of his earlier horror film SCARECROWS-derivative but entertaining HUSK). The script was written by Catherine Trillo and Thommy Hutson who had previously collaborated on the horror anthology PRANKS and two direct-to-video Scooby Doo animated cartoon features. The opening credits pay homage to John Carpenter's THE THING in font, the placement of all the credits before the title, and the slow, low build-up of Tomandandy's ambient score (which is elsewhere largely undistinctive); but, with its siege situation and ruthless fight-or-flight in-fighting, it seems to be more FEAST-lite than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (the creature effects of former Dimension Films go-to artist Gary Tunnicliffe are proficient but awfully like his own creations for the former film). The experience would be bearable if there were some memorable deaths or if the script was not so quick to do away with the stronger, more likable characters in an effort to be unpredictable. The climax gives us a relatively resource, observant and badass heroine, but then exchanges her at the end for the most useless and undeserving final girl since THE RUINS. The 2.35:1 low-light lensing of Scott Winig – who also shot THE MONKEY'S PAW and the slasher LAID TO REST – however, is more than a stylistic affectation, dynamically framing the "ensemble" cast with the width and depth of the frame, and Simmons – who also edited – is able to draw out the suspense before a few of the attack scenes. Other Scream Factory Chiller Network titles include Larry Fessenden's BENEATH and CHILLING VISIONS: 5 SENSES OF FEAR.

Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray replicates the HD-lensed film's colorful palette during the daytime exteriors and the warmer, darker interiors and chillier night exteriors with the only weakness seemingly inherent in the aggressively color-corrected source (for instance, one shot has a pitch black foreground where a detail waiting to be noticed by one of the character seems to have been brightened after everything around it was darkened). Audio is offered in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio encodes of the original 5.1 track and a 2.0 stereo downmix. The former is of course recommended with subtle forest sounds in the surrounds during the first act and more sinister noises as the characters and audience listen for the next attack from all sides of the cabin. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The film can also be watched with an audio commentary by director Simmons who responded to the script's throwback quality, working with Barrymore's Flower Films, his excitement about shooting on location in the woods, and how he enjoyed letting the actors improvise on set only to realize the difficulty of cutting those scenes together in post. He also acknowledges his debt to John Carpenter with the opening credits and score, as well as Eve's cameo (and how difficult it might be for viewers to realize that it is her). Whatever the viewer's opinion of the film itself, Simmons is able to convey on the track why the project excited him. The disc also includes some disappointingly brief "Interviews with the Cast" (1:42) and "Behind the Scenes" (3:03) segments which were probably aired on Chiller and online. One suspects that there must have been more behind the scenes video available, but the only other extras are a trailer (1:45) for the limited theatrical run and a teaser (0:31). The cover is reversible and, as usual, the more effective cover is on the inside. (Eric Cotenas)