Live Animals (2009) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
Below is my three star film review of filmmaker Jeremy Benson’s fine horror entry:
It’s a business. The businessmen catch their prey holding them just long enough to peddle them to a middle man. And if the over-sexed, drunken animals live long enough, they get boxed up and shipped abroad by boat where they eventually become a plaything for God knows who. It’s all business—an entrepreneurial enterprise representing the best and worst capitalism has to offer. The business of live animals. And those animals just happen to be our children.
No doubt a metaphor for the handling and abuse of wild animals, or a riff on human trafficking, director Jeremy Benson has made a horror film that will be PETA approved. This blood-soaked saga is one of the better entries in the sagging and tarred dramatic horror sub-genre often unfairly labeled “torture [**].” Unlike the recently released offensive remake “The Last House on the Left,” the smartly titled “Live Animals” is (to turn out a pun) a cut above. Like early Wes Craven and John Carpenter entries (think the original “Last House” or “Assault on Precinct 13”), Benson’s film rams full-tilt into an often gory but strangely logical world where human beings are bartered like cattle. A sharp, well-edited film, “Live Animals” should finally give the Memphis filmmaker his big break. Film world, let me be one of many to introduce Jeremy Benson!
Starring Craig Brewer alum and Memphis actor John Still in the pivotal role of Wayne, an insidious human trafficker, “Live Animals” puts a new spin on familiar material. After introducing us to Wayne, we meet brother and sister, Nick (Christian Walker) and Erin (Jeanette Comans). Erin is clearly depressed over a recent breakup, and caring sibling Nick encourages her to get over it by “getting under someone.” A raunchy party ensues, but as the teens drink and screw, dark forces spy on them through a telephoto lens. And when the party winds down, the teens find themselves hunted by a dart gun weilding, diabolical trapper named Edgar (Patrick Cox). Benson smartly front loads his story with the traditional slasher type sequence even having his mammoth villain don a sinister mask clearly an homage to Carpenter’s classic “Halloween.”
After a well-paced chase and eventual capture, the surviving teens find themselves chained to stalls in a large horse-barn. Benson makes maximum use of the tight confines of a normally serene and pleasant place where horses are lodged turning it into staging ground for horror and villainy. Having already been made aware of the brawn, we quickly learn that the brains behind the operation is the grandfatherly Wayne (Still), who establishes his dominance over his prisoners in a gruesome scene. Let’s just say that gore fans will be pleased, and tongues everywhere will be quiver in fear.
The story tightens as more and more details come out: Wayne is a player in a human slavery operation. And in one excellently paced and creepy scene, he sells one of the teens to a scary merchant named Amell (played by Bill Painter). Amell inspects the captives like one would a horse or a prized steer, and the coldness of this scene will resonate more with audiences than any of the bloody events that follow. And Benson luckily gets a splendid performance out of Painter, whose accent sets his character apart from Still’s country twangish portrayal of Wayne. Adding an eerie prop, that of a walking stick, Painter makes the merchant an insidious classic baddie. And like Wayne, this merchant has brought with him muscle equipped with appropriate bondage gear. Methodically, Edgar and Amell’s henchman go about their duties—they’ve clearly done this before. And the scene has a chilling vibrance as nail after nail closes the box around the trembling child. Benson artfully utilizes a classical sounding score and intercuts shots of the fearful captives as they watch in horror as one of their own is crated. This is impressive work in a film this small.
Shot on digital video, ““Live Animals” looks better than anything Benson’s done before (this is his 5th feature). Clearly, he and his team spent many, many hours tweaking color and working the frame rate (I’m assuming the original negative here was in 24 progressive). The colors are warm with heavy contrast that most fans of smaller budgeted horror will appreciate. Although much of the film takes place in low light, the details are clear and sharp. Folks familiar with limitations of digital video will find the image pleasing and film-like. But as much as filmmakers may want a visual look that approximates film, given video’s growing dominance (I recently endured the first 2 plus hours of Soderbergh’s “Che” shot on the RedOne), I suspect that most filmgoers will have great difficulty telling the formats apart. It is enough that “Live Animals” looks uniform and rich.
Having been introduced to writer/director Jeremy Benson years ago by EI’s Rusty White, I’ve not always been complimentary of his efforts. And I know he’s not been particularly happy with my opinions. It has been my observation in the past that his ambition has consistently robbed his films of complete success, because he often populates his stories with large, untrained casts and complex story-lines placing too many demands on his talent and equipment. Benson may be a budding horror auteur but his origins are dramatic mature narratives. And Benson shows with “Live Animals” that he can take something derivative and even gimmicky and make it interesting and entertaining. “Live Animals” is more than just another low budgeted horror film, it marks a major accomplishment and should give hope to wannabe filmmakers everywhere. Benson has just kept chugging along making sincere films, each time sharpening his skill. And that skill, which I’ve never doubted, can finally be appreciated by others. Jeremy, your time has come.
About Live Animals (2009)
Starring: John Still, Christian Walker, Patrick Cox
Director: Jeremy Benson