Monday, March 30, 2015

When Animal Attacks!: "Animal" (2014)

Drew Barrymore is one of many executive producers in this typical "monster on the loose" flick that could generate many a straight-to-video sequel.

A group of friends, including step-siblings Jeff (Parker Young) and Alissa (Keke Palmer), head to the woods to show their prospective life-partners Mandy (Elizabeth Gillies) and Matt (Jeremy Sumpter) where they used to camp as kids. Along for the ride is poor fifth wheel/slight comic relief Sean (Paul Iacono). After getting caught in the boonies after dark, they are attacked by what seems to be a bear with male pattern baldness, fleeing to a cabin where three responsible adults are hiding out.

Carl (Thorsten Kaye), his wife Vicky (Joey Lauren Adams) and boo-hiss villain Douglas (Amaury Nolasco) are waiting in the pre-barricaded abandoned cabin after Douglas' wife (singer/actress Eve, in either a cameo or a supporting role that was left on the cutting room floor) was eaten by the monster. Infighting and badly thought out escape plans begin, as well as some eye rolling secrets the group of friends decide to unload before trying to outrun the creature.

The script doesn't explain a lot, and perhaps any possible follow-up sequels will- like why the cabin was already fortified, and the origin of the title character. Simmons' direction is nice, the scenes in the woods are beautifully shot, but once the characters get indoors, the flow slows. I liked that the cast of bait figure out some things about the creature, and whether the thing possesses higher intelligence, but that kind of analysis is interrupted by Douglas wandering around a loft delivering unintentionally funny we're-all-gonna-die speeches.

Palmer and Gillies are better known for past sitcoms on Nickelodeon ("True Jackson, VP" and "Victorious," both of which had their hysterical moments), and they transition into these adult roles well. Palmer is saddled with the unfortunate theme song over the end credits, and I would like to see a law passed that Gillies must wear tight fitting button-up shirts in all her future work on camera. Adams is given nothing to do, I forgot she was in the film until she would show up onscreen.

The gore and monster effects are good- when you can see them. Simmons keeps his camera shaky in the attack scenes, so you don't get a very good idea of what we are dealing with. A couple of jump scares will startle you, but the monster isn't all that scary, despite what the screaming reactions and a bum-bum John Carpenteresque musical score tell you. Two of the characters are given short monologues that you know were done during the audition process.

"Animal" is average, not the worst thing out there, the watchable cast definitely helps. (* * *) out of five stars.