This one had me undecided as to whether I liked it or not almost the entire running time. The opening had me rolling around my eyes; the middle kinda had to hooked; and then the ending … the goddamn ending. What I thought was gonna end up being a pretty decent and fun entry into the torture-porn sub-genre completely falls apart in the final act. I was really disappointed that writer-director Jeremy Benson took LIVE ANIMALS in the direction he did in the last 20 minutes.
The film opens with meeting Wayne (John Still); a seemingly salt-of-the-earth, hard working middle America kind of guy who has a big white beard that reminds you of a Santa impersonator at the mall. But soon after meeting Wayne we follow him as he hunts down and captures a group of 20-somethings as they are having a house party. With the help of Edgar (a very intimidating Patrick Cox) he locks them up in a barn in individual cages hoping to sell them to the highest bidder. Yup; it turns out that Wayne is just your typical white slave trader selling the 20-somethings into sexual slavery overseas. This movie really doesn’t offer anything new to the torture-porn sub-genre and I found myself successfully predicting where the story was gonna go. But through some pretty well-shot scenes and decent gore, I found myself enjoying this one more than I should have.
What makes this one stand out from the typical shitty torture-porn flick is that the focus isn’t on the captured kids. Director Jeremy Benson instead decides to focus on the captors (Wayne and Edgar). Wayne is a matter-of-fact kinda guy who’s married (for 10 years we’re told) and doesn’t take any sadistic pleasure in hurting the kids unnecessarily. After they’re captured Wayne takes one of the kids and ties him up in front of the others. He explains, rather rationally, that people are easier to deal with than animals because with people you can “break” one and the others will fall into place (with animals you need to break every one of them). He then proceeds to “break” the guy as an example. It was a pretty tense and cringe-inducing scene that worked for me.
The cast of 20-somethings, as a whole, were unfortunately not very good actors. They of course do the typical whining and crying, but most of them pander to the camera and I was aware I was watching actors the entire time. The good thing is that Still and Cox both put in solid performances as the captors. This is a good thing considering the movie was focused more on them than the kids. And just wait until the slave buyer shows up and “checks out” the merchandise; its a really creepy scene that will make you feel really uncomfortable and dirty (especially how they box up the girl after she is sold).
But more than anything what hurt this film is the slow pace. There are many scenes where the camera lingers on pretty unimportant things for too long, and we get endless shots of the captured kids with their faces pressed against their cages. I think 10 minutes of this film could have been shaved off to made a tighter, more engaging film. There were also way too many convenient plot points that Benson used to further the plot. It felt as though Benson wrote himself into a corner a few times and simply “created” a way out that didn’t feel natural to what was occurring on screen.
And unavoidably we come to the end; the “escape scene” whereby a few of the caged up “product” gets loose. Aahhh that goddamn ending. What I thought was gearing up to be an original ending for a torture-porn flick unfortunately becomes a cookie-cutter ending that really pissed me off. As soon as the three survivors escape it seems they become completely different characters and start doing really stupid and annoying things that make their situation worse. And just wait until you see the pain threshold of one of the survivors: he gets stabbed in the stomach, shot in the back with bird shot, gets a really thick drill through his hand, and gets a finger cut off. This guy’s more tenacious than that fucking Energizer bunny and just keeps on going. It was really silly. I can’t imagine why Benson decided to take the ending where he did. LIVE ANIMALS completely falls apart in the final act … COMPLETELY, and we even get a “twist” at the end that is just retarded. Blech.
So what I thought was going to revitalize the torture-porn sub-genre by injecting some fresh blood into it (by focusing on the captors instead of the kids captured) ends up going down the same road of cliches. Now I must admit that I found this one more effective than the HOSTEL flicks. LIVE ANIMALS doesn’t glorify the violence like HOSTEL 1 & 2 does. If you’re gonna watch this one anyway, do yourself a favor and don’t watch the final 10 minutes. This one almost got my recommendation but the ending is just too damn annoying. Skip it.
Director: Jeremy Benson (and writer)
Plot: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer