By failing to deliver scares or a satisfying mystery, “Animal Among Us” unfortunately lacks the bite it so desperately needs.
Some of my favorite films involve plots that subvert the audience’s expectations. Films that advertise themselves as one thing while building on something entirely different can be surprisingly satisfying when done correctly. Such films as One Cut of The Dead have pulled this off flawlessly, while meticulously crafting an unexpected and exciting story.
To writer and director John Woodruff’s credit, Animal Among Us‘ premise is a relatively strong one. It hints at a larger, more nefarious mystery to be uncovered, but is it one that’s worth investigating further?
Animal Among Us follows Roland (Christian Oliver), a has-been horror writer who jumps at an unexpected opportunity to visit the campgrounds which provide the setting for his bestseller. Capitalizing on a grizzly double murder that occurred there, Roland seizes the opportunity, as he feels it could be his next big break.
Early on, things are not what they seem.
Roland’s cool and calm exterior is a facade hiding the stressors of his life. He juggles keeping a flirty college student at bay, his wife’s looming pregnancy, and the realization that his days of prominence are behind him. These factors cast a bleak uncertainty to his character, as trouble is undoubtedly brewing in “paradise.”
It is implied that there’s a monster or “Sasquatch” roaming the camp grounds. The film presents itself as part creature feature, part mystery, implying that the audience will have to decide for themselves whether the monster is real or not. This set-up forms an intriguing, if not familiar premise that indicates a worthwhile mystery worth sticking around to uncover. So it’s a shame that Animal Among Us fails to execute meaningfully on its core plot aspects.
Animal Among Us bizarrely spells things out far too clearly and too early to ever achieve any adequate pacing.
We meet the current campground owners, played by Larisa Oleynik and Christine Donlon, and are are given snippets of their sordid backstories. The pair quickly begin to beat the audience over the head with the fact that they’re scheming behind the scenes, which further eliminates any sort of suspense being crafted.
The film’s spoiling the investigation phase of its mystery means that the audience knows early on, with absolute certainty, that things are not as they seem. This results in Animal Among Us lacking the subtlety to make the viewer decipher what is happening by quite literally telling them rather than showing.
The film’s mystery is missing an incentive for the audience to become invested in is further hindered by a lack of compelling characters or dialogue. Characters live and die by their trope-heavy exteriors, of which they run the gamut, including a sleazy war vet, a country bumpkin, and, for lack of a better word, a bimbo.
The audience isn’t given a reason to care for any character in particular, which furthers an already dwindling interest.
Even our protagonist, who has a pregnant wife and child at home, abandons his frail sense of morality far too quickly in favor of a short-lived conquest. So when Roland begins to see the consequences of his actions, the audience is actively rooting against him, making Animal Among Us a ship without a captain.
Rounding out Animal Among Us’ consistently awkward dialogue is the film’s repeated denigration of its only minority character. This misguided attempt at humor, which plays on Hispanic stereotypes and mocking impressions, is as lazy as it is cringe worthy. These jokes, and I do struggle to refer to them as such, always rubbed me the wrong way as I felt they served no purpose other than an attempt to go for a cheap laugh.
These instances are a case of the humor saying more about the film’s writer rather than the characters who deliver them, given how inconsequential they are. Aside from this, a majority of the film’s performances range from overstated to uninspired, making it difficult to praise any standouts.
An underwhelming mystery and understated performances could have been somewhat redeemed if Animal Among Us had featured any memorable kills.
But even there, the film falters. The kills that are shown are neither memorable nor help to alleviate any of Animal Among Us’ other shortcomings. Quick cuts away from the violence and a general lack of kills results in horror elements that never really justify the film promoting itself as horror.
Had Animal Among Us delivered either as either a satisfying creature feature or an engaging mystery, the film could have redeemed its numerous faults. A lack of meaningful delivery on either facet, despite the initial potential of the film, results in Woodruff’s intriguing premise lacking the bite Animal Among Us desperately needs in order to be a complete success.