Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DVD Review: Live Animals (2009)


Echo Bridge Entertainment

TAGLINE: Buy, Sell, Trade, the Market's Open.
RATED: Unrated
DIRECTOR: Jeremy Benson
CAST: John Still (Wayne), Christian Walker (Nick), Jeanette Comans (Erin), Stacy Still (Kathy), Patrick Cox (Edgar)

SUMMARY: In the quiet of the country, a sick twisted man kidnaps young adults in the dark of night, binds them by heavy chains to stalls in an isolated barn. They are trained to obey with torture, broken like horses, prepared for merciless slaughter. Their screeches of pain go ignored - many others were once here, many more will arrive. But one batch of prisoners has the chance to escape. Too bad they've underestimated their killer...

 FILM: As a night of partying at a lake house comes to an end a horny group of five 20-somethings are stalked and kidnapped by a hulking masked-figure armed with a dart gun. They awake the next morning and discover that they have been abducted and are being held captive in a horse stable. The captor is a ruthless man named Wayne (John Still), turns out he's a cold-hearted trafficker of white slaves that are sold on the black market to the highest bidder ...and he looks a bit like the world's meanest Santa Clause with that big white beard. He let's the 20-somethings know that they are his property now, they're like animals and they will be broken as such. And so he does with the assistance of his accomplice Edgar, a burly and mean looking Patrick Cox. Also among the captive is Kathy (Stacy Still), a seemingly mentally feeble woman who to my eyes strongly recalled the great Grace Zabriskie (Galaxy of Terror) in her appearance as woman at her wits end. She's singing fairy tales and generally being nutty. The film is fairly depressing as they're stripped of their dignity, tortured and broken, one of them loses their tongue in the process. The torture isn't overdone, but it is well executed and dreadful just the same. When one of their group is sold to a well-dressed businessman and shipped out of the country the group quickly realize they need to do anything they can to escape. When given the opportunity they make a break for it which leads to a bloody confrontation with their captor and a twist(ed) ending.

The acting is quite good throughout, particularly John Still as the menacing Wayne. I found myself thinking during the film what would I do in a similar situation,  but I didn't particularly relate to any of the 20-somethings which made it hard feel for them. Another aspect of the film I didn't care pertained to a revelation involving the character of Kathy. It seemed a bit of a convenience and I didn't buy into it. It proved to be a very convenient plot device. It didn't ruin the film for me, but I felt it was the weakest part of an overall good film.
The film has an artful style, it looked great with good lighting and concise editing. The story was pretty streamlined and didn't have a lot of fluff, it's a brisk 80 minute film, not a lot of lulls.

While watching the film I was reminded of another recent white slavery flick which I enjoyed a bit more called Shuttle (2008), they tread similar territory. White slavery isn't something
addressed in films the way it was in the exploitation cinema of late 60's and 70's and it's good to see it touched on now and again. The subject matter isn't handled particularly deeply here but it's a good concept and I wound up enjoying the film much more than it's "torture porn" reputation would have had me believe.

DVD: Live Animals is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with a 2.0 stereo audio track. It's a good looking film shot digitally and the stereo sound is decent. There are 3 bonus features that run about 45 min. combined comprised of behind the scenes stuff, interviews and a tutorial on creating digital effects, not bad.

Special Features
- A View from the Crate: The Making of Live Animals (17 min.)
- Deleted Scenes (15 min.)
- Behind the Digital Curtain (22 min.)

VERDICT: The term "torture porn" is thrown around quite a bit and I've heard it tossed at Live Animals as well, but it doesn't fit in my opinion. The marketing itself reaches out to fans of films like Saw and Hostel and I can see this connecting with them, I just don't but into the term "torture porn". While not a spectacular film Live Animals was a good low-budget indie thriller with good production and artful execution. **1/2 (2.5out of 5 stars)