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The scary thing about entering the wilderness is the acknowledgment that nobody will come to your aid if something goes wrong. We're on our own when we choose to leave the comfort of the city, and only the strong survive when things go south. Those ideas receive some thorough exploration in Mark H. Young's Feral, and the indie pseudo-zombie movie makes for a thrilling (albeit sometimes paint-by-numbers) thriller that will please splatter fans.

We open on a group of friends/future doctors hiking through the woods, far away from civilization. Focusing primarily on Alice (Halloween's Scout Taylor-Compton) and Jules (It Follows' Olivia Luccardi), Feral follows these up-and-coming medical professionals trying to have one last hurrah. However, things turn bloody when they encounter something primal lurking in the woods, which leads them to the cabin of a mysterious survivalist named Talbot (Lew Temple), who seems to know more than he lets on.

That's pretty much all you need to know, and Feral thrives on doing a lot with a little. This film is an intimate movie about a group of friends struggling to survive in a life-or-death scenario, and the film makes the most of small spaces. Moreover, what it lacks in overt themes or heavy-handed symbolism, it more than makes up for with solid scares and a few thrilling sequences that showcase the action-horror chops of director Mark H. young.

A lot of this boils down to the strong and compelling lead performance by Scout Taylor-Compton. Stripping away the ditzy teen persona of her version of Laurie Strode from Rob Zombie's Halloween, the 29-year-old actress delivers a commendable modern scream queen performance as a believably capable survivor who knows how to handle herself in rough situations.

Also worth noting is director Mark H. Young's willingness to put the monsters in the frame without relying solely on jump scares. Though there most definitely are a few moments in Feral in which the main creatures come out of nowhere and attack our young heroes, there are just as many sequences in which the camera simply sits and lets the actors portraying the feral to explore the space. When combined with the film's smart lighting, interesting creature design, and use of shadows, it creates some insanely creepy silhouettes that roam the darkness out in the distance. As a result, the relatively small-scale movie feels much bigger and more expansive because of the implied sense of open space in the forest, and a palpable feeling that the monsters are out there waiting for the survivors.

On the other hand, that sense of tension and dread does come with its own fair share of drawbacks. Specifically, Feral gets right into the rotten, undead meat of its story without doing too much to flesh out the main cast of characters. We eventually learn more about some of them as the story progresses (though they often tell us about themselves when it would be better for them to show us), but there's an easy case to make that the film could've benefited from the decision to delay the second act of the story in favor of slowing things down at the beginning and giving us more time to understand and empathize with every member of the central cast.

That issue ultimately has a reasonably significant impact on how we feel about the characters and their interactions with one another. Feral sets up certain interpersonal conflicts during its first act that seem vital to the development of the characters and how they will handle each other when the shit hits the fan, but then it mostly leaves those ideas behind when the ravenous ferals show up to attack this group of friends. It's unclear if that's an intentional commentary on the fact that we can set aside our BS in the face of mortal danger or an accidental oversight in the mission to tell a lean and mean story, but it would've been nice to see some of the film's early arguments and fights come back around in a more substantive and thematically-significant way.

Feral also won't win too many points for originality -- not that there's anything wrong with that. The movie seems more interested in generating tension, and solid scares than it is in completely reinventing creature feature tropes, so seasoned horror genre veterans may see specific narrative devices or plot twists coming. That said, Feral works on such a primal, visceral level that its willingness to lean into some familiar ideas becomes easy to forgive after a while.

All in all, Feral is an above average cabin in the woods splatter romp with consistent tension and some surprisingly emotional beats. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does tear it apart and reanimate it in genuinely bloody fashion. If you're looking for something gory, creepy, and downright nasty, then this should definitely cure what ails you.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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