With a weekend in the woods underway, six friends encounter a ravenous and viral force that threatens their very survival, leaving them to fight for their lives and overcome a deadly disease lurking in the depths of the wilderness. Written by Mark Young and Adam Fraizer while also being directed by Mark Young, FERAL stars Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton), an intelligent and fierce lead who, like her five camping companions, just recently graduated college and is looking to pursue a career in epidemiology. Along with her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi), Alice and her counterparts unknowingly set up camp within the feeding grounds of wild, human-like creatures that are hungry for blood. The group must do everything in their power to remain alive while figuring out the cause of this animal-inducing virus.

While not being the biggest fan of zombie-related thematics as I find the overuse of the genre to be a bit stale, FERAL ends up keeping my attention through its well crafted filmmaking, gruesome special effects, and great performances. And don’t let that suggest that I didn’t enjoy the story, because I did find the story to be captivating through the director’s use of taking a common concept and adding his own fresh twists to it. While lagging at times, the plot steadily progresses and relies heavily on its practical effects and intelligent lead characters that use physical and mental strength to overcome their situations. The gore sequences are also direct and effective, showcasing its own way of producing an audience with scares.

I always appreciate a strong lead character, and Alice doesn’t disappoint. Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, The Runaways), was a great choice, as she’s calm but fierce, leading the pack with her wit and level-headedness. Playing alongside her is girlfriend Jules, played by Olivia Luccardi (It Follows, Money Monster), who acts as the opposite end of the spectrum; remaining more timid, but still containing underlying strength. They balance each other out nicely, and almost act as one whole character. The appearance of Lew Temple as Talbot was a pleasant surprise, as I was unaware of his role in the film. Being in such movies as The Devil’s Rejects and Domino, I felt he was the perfect addition as the helpful at first, yet mysterious cabin dweller with his own underlying secrets.

Though not entirely my bag due to a subgenre that I find to be a little lackluster, FERAL houses tons of great strengths that kept my attention. This is the perfect independent gem for fans of outbreaks, contagions, and virus-induced mutations, locking you in for a steady ride that builds through story and character development, with some intense and gruesome death scenes on the side. Check out FERAL when it’s released in select theaters and on VOD May 25 from IFC Midnight.

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