Anything featuring Elizabeth Gillies or Keke Palmer gets my automatic attention, so “Animal” was really an easy sell for me. True, it’s another horror film from Chiller Films, but, you know—Elizabeth Gillies and Keke Palmer. So, I’m willing to compromise. Thankfully “Animal” ends up being a very entertaining and creepy monster in the house horror film that feels like it could have been made in the mid-nineties. That’s by no means a caveat, as Brett Simmons’ “Animal” is a healthy amalgam of “The Descent” and “Feast,” with a hint of “Night of the Living Dead.” Simmons doesn’t try to break the mold. But he doesn’t strive to regurgitate the same old tropes, either.
“Animal” begins with a very interesting prologue, as four hikers are being chased by a gigantic beast in the woods that consumes one of the hikers’ wives (a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from rapper Eve!). We fast forward to an undisclosed period where five friends gather for a camping trip deep in to the woods. After finding their desired route cut off for “Forrest Rejuvenation,” they decide to take an alternate path. All seems to be going well until they’re faced with a vicious otherworldly monster that they interrupt while it’s feasting on human innards. During much confusion, and a shocking display of the beast’s feeding habits, the friends high tail it in to the woods hoping to get back to their car. While hiding they stumble upon a barricaded cabin and are let in, barely surviving their escape. Much to their surprise, the survivors in the cabin are the previous hikers, and now they’re all stuck in the house with the beast lurking outside, anxious to eat. “Animal” comes together quite well with very good performances and a great sense of tension and friction among the characters.
It’s pretty clear the survivors within the cabin have been through the wringer, and now it’s our characters turns to find a way to survive. To make matters worse, the beast is intelligent and is looking for weak points in the barricade to enter and feast on the people boxed in the cabin. A lot of “Animal” is the classic monster in the house horror movie, where the beast is in its elements, dueling with a bunch of city slickers that can barely walk in the woods without tumbling over. Director Brett Simmons composes a great cast that manages to convince us of the inherent terror. Keke Palmer and Gillies are especially good as the pair of friends trying to keep their remaining group from becoming monster food. Palmer is the stand out though as the obsessive compulsive Alissa, whose own intellect becomes a challenge for the monster as she devises plans and traps that promise to keep them living a little longer. I especially enjoyed Paul Iacono as the group’s erratic music loving friend whose anxiety and sanity unravels the longer they fight for their lives.
Iacono’s turn as the horrified Sean feels very genuine, especially when he finds himself trapped or at the mercy of the monster. I also loved Amaury Nolasco, whose turn as the Harry Cooper of the group is fantastic. The beast in “Animal” is the classic Man in the Suit traditional effects, and it makes “Animal” so much better than if reduced to nothing but CGI. The monster effects are absolutely fantastic with sharp claws, jagged teeth, and blank dark eyes, and director Simmons delivers on a rampaging, chaotic, cannibalistic beast with an unquenchable thirst for humans. Where the monster is from and how it hunts is delightfully ambiguous, too, as it’s clear it can learn and understand, which makes it a valid threat when we bear witness to how it tears through its victims. “Animal” is a tightly paced and breezy horror film with top notch production qualities and performances. For folks that appreciate this kind of horror movie, “Animal” is a surefire gory good time. And I mean: Elizabeth Gillies and Keke Palmer. Need I say more?