If you were hoping for the long-awaited first solo venture from THE MUPPETS’ psychotic drummer, ANIMAL is destined to disappoint. To be honest, it’s probably going to disappoint no matter what you were hoping for. Directed by Brett Simmons, who was responsible for 2011’s middling scarecrow shocker HUSK and last year’s just plain awful THE MONKEY’S PAW, ANIMAL has all the right ingredients for a thrilling B-movie creature feature, but fails to rise above its clichéd and derivative trappings.
ANIMAL’s first ten minutes are promising. It plunges us directly into the action, it features a name actor (PRISON BREAK’s Amaury Nolasco), and it’s executively produced by Drew Barrymore. Production values are high throughout, and the creature effects, which are predominantly practical, are strong (even if the monster sometimes looks like a giant bipedal rodent). The two female leads, Keke Palmer and Elizabeth Gillies, give a decent account of themselves, and Simmons crafts by far his most atmospheric scenes to date. The runtime is brisk and the action rarely lags.
With so much going for it, where does ANIMAL fall down? In a word, everywhere. It’s one thing for a film of this sort to embrace its B-movie heritage, but quite another for it to demonstrate such a comprehensive lack of ambition. Most of the blame lies with screenwriters Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo, who underperform on every level. Their characters are shallow stereotypes who fit neatly into the usual horror film categories (the smart girl, the sexy girl, the nerd, the jock, the coward). Their plotting is almost nonexistent (a group of friends get trapped in a house by a monster), and their dialogue is at best trite, at worst openly condescending (there are some seriously sexist lines to marvel at). Characters are prone to sudden revelations that add nothing to the story and are never mentioned again (‘I’m pregnant!’), and any tension the director manages to build is deflated by episodes of high camp and/or melodrama. Clichés abound, from the hackneyed relationships to the going-through-the-motions fight scenes, and almost everything that happens can be predicted well in advance. Most damning of all, however, is the aforementioned lack of ambition. Having cast its attractive leads and conjured an effective creature, ANIMAL is happy to rest on its laurels.
Even a bad B-movie creature feature is usually worth watching. ANIMAL is bad, but isn’t totally devoid of merit. The monster is above-par, and the story as bloodthirsty as they come (one of the few surprises it manages to pull off is who lives and who dies). If you’re looking for nothing more demanding than a good old-fashioned man (or, in this case, woman) vs. monster grudge match, ANIMAL will suffice. But if you care about interesting characters, engaging dialogue and an original plot, look elsewhere.