‘Chiller Films’, is the film production out-put of the US Horror Channel ‘Chiller’, films produced for Theatrical and Video on Demand release, but followed by an exclusive premiere on the channel itself. As far as I can tell they’ve been producing films from 2011 onwards for Television Broadcast only but these new Theatrical Ventures seem to have gained a great deal more attention. It’s understandable too, looking at the slim collection of titles, it’s almost as if they’ve been assembled to appeal to your average horror-fan. There’s ‘Deep in The Darkness’ (2014), an adaption of a novel that sounds like someone took the Morlocks from HG Welles ‘The Time Machine’ and stuck them in a small American town (from the images I’ve seen online the creatures even look similar to those from the 1960 movie Adaption). Then there’s the Monkeys Paw, a story which every Horror Fan knows and loves. And finally the film I’m discussing today- ‘Animal’, a throwback ‘Cabin-In-The-Woods’ type film which seems to have been the most well received and most well known of all their efforts. However when looking at the critical reception to a lot of their output one has to wonder if that’s saying much.
The problem with ‘Animal’ is that it’s something we’ve all seen done before, that’s not necessarily a bad thing and sometimes a good old fashioned monster-fest can be enjoyable (and if ‘Animal’ is anything it certainly is enjoyable). I like throwback movies, I like it when a film tries to reflect the past but in order to be successful it has to bring something new to the table, throw the audience off, otherwise it’s simply predictable. The over use of stereotypical characters, scenarios means that ‘Animal’ falls very much into this trap and the fact that nothing is really achieved on a stellar level result in a film that is just decent, when it could have been something much more. The really upsetting thing is that ‘Animal’ has so many moments that could of made it a little more original, but the potential is wasted. I suppose the best way to describe it would be that if ‘Animal’ were a Sandwich, it would be Cheese. Not Cheese and Pickle, not Cheese and Tomato or even Cheese and Ham, just plain old Cheese and Bread. The most upsetting thing is that the Pickle is right there. Several times the film alludes to the back-story of the titular creature, but nowhere near enough. Now I’m all for ambiguity and subtlety, it’s something I compliment many a work of fiction for. I don’t like knowing all the answers, I like a bit of a mystery but here there’s not nearly enough! We’re told that the creature knows the entrances and exists to the house- slightly strange and immediately suggests that it has some history with the house but it’s never expanded upon in the slightest. At the very least I was hoping for maybe some evidence in the basement, perhaps lab equipment or something which ok would have made the film even more clichéd but would have been a satisfactory close to all the build up the basement is given. When we finally do venture down there all we get is another creature attack.
Instead of ‘Creature Back Story’ we get ‘Human Interaction’, not a bad swap- I like character development and more often than not a Monster Movie relies on two things: A) a cool creature and B) strong characters. ‘Animals’ characters are not strong and the various ‘twists’ and ‘shocking secrets’ aren’t shocking and one wonders why they were kept secret as their forgotten about almost as soon as they are revealed. I would say plot spoilers here but considering that none of them really matter you can choose yourself whether to keep on reading. For example the revelation that one of the characters has had a Homosexual affair with another’s boyfriend who made her pregnant. It’s perhaps the best scene in the film, dialogue is profound and seems to be as realistic a conversation as possible if people were in the situation these characters are put in. The crime is, it’s never brought up again. Not once. Even worse is that like many scenes in the film it signposts what’s going to happen next, you know the pregnant girl isn’t going to die because they never do. You know that if two lovers have a heartfelt conversation just before one of them enters dangerous situation, that that character is going to die. Even the character of Douglas who seems injected to add a layer of tension, brings nothing new to the table. The character of a survivor who will do whatever it takes to be alive at the end of the film is hardly a new one.
It’s not all bad however. The Actors all do fine jobs, Paul Iacono who plays Sean, in particular is superb and is a real pleasure to watch. Considering he’s not always given the juiciest of material he steals every scene he’s in and I look forward to seeing him in any future productions. The creature itself is a brilliant example of why practical effects and monster suits should not be a forgotten industry, just because of the advent of CGI. ‘Animal’ whilst I have been, I feel perhaps overly harsh on it, is still great fun. Ok it’s old hat. Ok there are many missed opportunities that with one more rewrite could have been fixed but it’s still enjoyable. I may have found myself groaning at several points during the film but never through boredom and despite what I may have said; I’m still interested to see some of the other films produced by Chiller. I mean, I do love The Time Machine...
PS- in an article from June the 31st 2013 announcing the Formation of Chiller Films, the Chiller Website insists the Monkey’s Paw is ‘Based on the Classic Edgar Allen Poe short story, when I always believed the original was written by W.W Jacobs? If anybody can correct me here or has any information on the history of the story I’d be obliged!