November 14, 2019 Animal Among Us (Movie Review)
A best-selling author, maimed Sasquatch investigator, and delirious videographer join together with the remnants of the Bishop family in Animals Among Us, a brand new throwback to the glory days of Horror. Uncork’d Entertainment deliver the flick to Digital and DVD on Tuesday, November 19th, 2019.
Welcome to the grand re-opening of the Merrymaker Campground! Over a decade ago, a series of mysterious and unsolved murders took place here, leaving the Bishop family—particularly sisters Anita (Larisa Oleynik: 3rd Rock from the Sun series, 10 Things I Hate About You 1999) and Poppy (Christine Donlon: Entourage 2015, Escape Room 2017)—in ruins but earning a best-selling novel for author Roland Baumgarner (Christian Oliver: Speed Racer 2008, The Three Musketeers 2011). Its history forever splashed in blood, the camp has become a popular spot for cryptozoological curiosity-seekers like the regretful Lupita (Whitney Davis: Bloodlust short 2015, Mock and Roll 2017).
As the Bishop sisters and their stepfather Burl (Don Frye: Godzilla: Final Wars 2004, Miami Vice 2006) begin the process of re-opening the camp and rescuing its reputation, they discover a delirious Lupita wandering the grounds, along with an obsessed reporter (Jonathan Murphy: Life on Mars series, Pull the Trigger, Mr. Wicker short 2012). Much to the sisters’ shock, Baumgarner accepts an invitation and arrives to join in on the fun, and then all hell breaks loose. Clearly, something horrific still waits in the woods and it is ready to kill again.
Clocking in at 92 minutes, Animal Among Us is a feature-length directorial debut for the talented John Woodruff (Within short 2013, Lockbox short 2017) and was written by Murphy, who appears in the witty role of the zany reporter. The film also features the acting talents of Erin Daniels (House of 1000 Corpses 2003, The L Word series), Jasmine Dustin (Fashion House series, Rush Hour 3 2007), Heather Tom (The Young and the Restless series, The Bold and the Beautiful series), and Eric Tiede (Famous In Love series, Modern Family series).
So, is Animal Among Us a bone-chilling monster movie? No and yes. Without giving too much away, this is a film that begins as straight Horror, twists severely in its third act, and becomes more of a Thriller. A clear throwback to classic Horror offerings like Friday the 13th (1980), with solid practical effects and an engaging story, this is a film that amalgamates standard Horror elements (“Big Foot is so played out!”) with Thriller elements to craft a unique screenplay that is never horrifying or particularly creepy, but always enjoyable.
As for the film’s weaknesses, its screenplay could certainly use some tweaking. In the first act, the stage is set for a return to the Merrymaker Campground, the scene of a set of grisly, unsolved murders some time ago. The details of those murders, the exact year of their occurrence, and a description of Baumgarner’s best-selling novel about the crimes are never given. Thus, when characters later make jokes about the atrocities (and the novel), viewers are left to struggle to fill in the gaps.
Everything is eventually laid out in the film’s third act, but the tension that could have been built by planting several gory details earlier on is ruined—and there’s little for viewers to truly fear. With Baumgarner ecstatic to return to the camp and the crimes perpetrated there somewhat ambiguous, the opportunity to craft an eerie new Crystal Lake is somehow lost in the fog.
Tidying up a few plot issues and amping the quality of the special FX makeup used on Baumgarner in the very last scene would lead to an even better final product. What does not require any retakes, however, are the results from the film’s ensemble cast. Delivering high-caliber performances, each of the actors go above and beyond to make this twisting and turning Horror-Thriller engaging and as believable as possible.
Though their roles are merely to up the body count, both Davis (Lupita) and Murphy (the reporter) provide solid supporting roles—with Murphy being quite comedic. As the Bishop sisters, Oleynik (Anita) and Donlon (Poppy) are also great in their roles. Character-wise, Donlon’s Poppy is a bit more sultry, while Oleynik’s Anita is ferocious if a bit demented. When the men are attempting to wimp out, Oleynik grabs a gun and marches right into the woods with her head held high. In this, Daniels’ Christine echoes her fierceness, but on a much more relatable scale.
Clearly, Oliver’s Baumgarner is the central character, and the actor gives a wonderful performance as the best-selling author turned professor. A polarizing role, some are apt to sympathize with his character as others will see only a self-absorbed philanderer. Either way, it’s a credit to Oliver’s talents that he is able to toe that precarious line and present all facets of Baumgarner for the audience. The antithesis of Baumgarner’s complicated personality is the fairly flat Burl, who Frye brings to life with a merry panache.
So ask yourself: do all Horror movies really end the same? In Animal Among Us, Director Woodruff and Writer Murphy pair the feels of the aforementioned Friday the 13th with moments inspired by 1990’s Misery, and then spin it all upside. Always a throwback to 1980s Horror and practical effects, sometimes full of twisted Girl Power, and definitely mocking itself as it all unravels, the film is an enjoyable watch for anyone who loves a bloody romp in the woods. For this, Cryptic Rock give Animal Among Us 3.5 of 5 stars.