A zombie by any other name would smell as sweet as “Feral,” which is to say, pretty gamy — not to mention pretty familiar, as genre fare goes. Mark H. Young’s indie feature is a competent horror thriller that ultimately doesn’t sport enough inspiration, in ideas or execution, to make for anything more than an OK but forgettable night’s rental. It opens a limited L.A. theatrical engagement simultaneous with on-demand launch this Friday.
A sextet of mostly med school students are on a camping weekend to celebrate recent graduation. They’re all paired off: Nice guy Matt (George Finn) with equally sweet-natured Brie (Renee Olstead); her best friend Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) with new squeeze Jules (Olivia Luccardi); and somewhat noxious alpha male Jesse (Brock Kelly), who has brought along his own new arm-candy Gina (Landry Allbright) but is clearly put out that ex-girlfriend Alice left him — for a woman, at that. When after several hours’ hiking the group fails to find the lake Matt hasn’t visited since childhood, they decide to camp where they are, and search again in the morning.
Unfortunately, the night proves eventful: Leaving his tent to take a leak (right after proposing to Brie, which seems rather rude), Matt is viciously attacked by some savage creature. When Brie investigates his long absence, she finds his corpse — and she, too, is attacked, though not fatally.
In a state of collective distress the next morning, long miles from their car and with no cell service (of course), our protagonists are approached by Talbot (Lew Temple). A widower and confessed hermit, he agrees to take them to his nearby cabin, where there are medical supplies. Once the wounded Brie is settled in, Jesse and Alice set off to get real help, which is at least 20 miles away. Alas, they haven’t gotten far when a bear trap puts a serious crimp in their continued progress.
Meanwhile back at the cabin, the others grow wary of Talbot’s behavior. Under duress, he tells them of a zombie-like viral contagion that has turned his loved ones (and will turn Brie) into undead predators. This gets him dismissed as a nutcase, then chased into the woods at the point of his own shotgun. Alas, it turns out he was telling the truth, as becomes obvious once night descends, the infected deteriorate, and the “ferals’” (drooling, snarling baldies played by Mark Musashi and Levi Ashlyn) turn up hungry for living flesh once more.
Co-scripted by Young (who’s written and directed six prior features in a similar mode of variably horror-tinged action) with first-timer Adam Frazier, “Feral” wastes little time before getting down to business. But the first wave of violence removes or incapacitates what turn out to be the most likable characters here. Those we’re left with are too often argumentative and/or whiny without being very interesting about it, though they’re all played capably enough.
Things move sufficiently fast that we don’t care much about some required leaps of logic, even if not much in the way of narrative surprises, memorable scares, or vivid atmosphere arises to distinguish the escalating crises. This isn’t a dull film, but it lacks personality as well as originality. (Even the focus on a lesbian couple as protagonists, while admirable, is actually something that has become fairly commonplace in “B” horror movies of late.)
Tech/design factors are solid, with Christos C. Bitsakos’ widescreen lensing particularly handsome in daytime outdoor sequences. You’d never guess (especially from the sweeping drone shots) that locations deployed here, primarily in Angeles National Forest, are really not at all far from the packed urbanity of Greater L.A.