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BETTER SQUATCH OUT
Animal Among Us (15)
Director: John Woodruff
Screenplay: Jonathan Murphy
Review: RJ Bland
There have been a number of 'Bigfoot' movies since the turn of the century. These include the fantastically named The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot as well as titles such as Exists, Willow Creek and Abominable. The range of quality is quite varied it has to be said and truth be told, there hasn't really been a stand out Squatch movie throughout the history of the genre. It's slightly odd because you think the ingredients are there for a decent genre movie. The legend is something that's debatably based on real sightings/experiences and the actual descriptions of bigfoot are vague/different enough that there is scope for sculpting a very unnerving monster. The latest feature to try and claim the crown of King Bigfoot movie is John Woodruff's debut indie feature 'Animal Among Us' - appealingly teased as Dog Soldiers vs Friday 13th.
Fifteen years ago, a remote woodland holiday camp was closed to the public after two young women were brutally killed. Rumours have circulated for years as to the identity of the killer – with some claiming that it was some kind of wild beast that was behind the attacks. But time is a great healer of course – and sisters Poppy and Anita Bishop (who were just kids when the murders took place) plan to reopen their parents camp once more. To celebrate the official reopening, they invite Roland Baumgarner, an author who made his name off the back of a fictionalised account of the murders to cut the ribbon etc. However, initial excitement and optimism is soon replaced with apprehension and terror as it becomes apparent that someone – or something – is still living in the woods and cutting people to shreds...
Let's be clear; this bears little resemblance to either Dog Soldiers or Friday 13th. That tag line alone promises an action-packed monster/slasher movie but Animal Among Us is a different kind of animal (sorry). For the most part, it's more of a mystery thriller with some horror elements slotted in here and there. That in itself is not a bad thing but it's important to manage audience expectations and anyone expecting a stalk'n'slash bigfoot movie is going to be rather disappointed.
To it's credit, the film is more concerned than most of its contemporaries with its central characters. I guess if it's your first feature film, you play to your strengths and Director JohnWoodruff does exactly that. If you have a competent set of actors (which let's face it, isn't always the case with similar movies) then use them accordingly and that's thankfully what we get. Animal Among Us could be accused of lacking the required levels of blood and tension but it counters that (to some degree at least) by letting us spend time with an engaging and fun set of characters. The cast list is actually very small and this pretty much rules out the possibility that this is going to be a killfest but hey, I'd rather watchable characters than mindless violence for the sake of it at the end of the day. Christian Oliver is probably the standout performer as his role is enjoyably ambiguous. You're never entirely sure whether or not you're supposed to be rooting for the flawed author he portrays. He's not a bad man, he's just a bit of a prick. Christine Donlon is a lot of fun as the coquettish Poppy, whilst her Larisa Oleynik gives a really assured turn as her enigmatic sister. Throw in a wonderfully gruff performance from Don Frye and you've got a great core of talent there.
The charm of Animal Among Us comes not only from the actors but also from the tone, which is enjoyably old school and feels like a bit of a throwback. There are smatterings of comedy amongst the drama and action and the leisurely pace of the movie makes for easy, undemanding viewing. There are some issues that do unfortunately hold it back from being a rip roaring success however. Firstly, the 'bigfoot' element is a little underwhelming and although the practical effects are all perfectly fine, you do feel that the fact we rarely see him means that we're missing that big bad that this kind of film could do with. Animal Among Us does have some blood and gore in places but it doesn't quite hit the mark when it comes to ratcheting up the tension and turning the screw (if there are any more DIY analogies out there let me know). When all of the characters converge at the Camp at the beginning of the first act you feel there is the potential for some real suspense and conflict but the film opts for a more pensive and cautious approach. And although the film msut be applauded for attempting to try something unexpected in the third act, it mainly only serves to kill off any real sense of horror that remains.
All in all, something of a mixed bag and your overall enjoyment will be mainly dictated by your expectations going in. This isn't an over-the-top, lewd, kill-a-minute monster B-movie. It's a bit more thoughtful and sedate than that and despite it's flaws, still makes for an interesting addition to the Bigfoot sub-genre.
John Woodruff's feature debut is an enjoyable mystery-thriller that offers some low-key thrills as well as a lot of charm and some strong central performances. It may disappoint on the horror front but there's still enough there to satisfy those looking for something undemanding and fun.
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