Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jay's Review: Live Animals (or, "Hostel for the Horsey set")

Another DVDsnapshot.com review, this time of a micro-budget horror thriller called "Live Animals" that I found truly upsetting. Not for the squeamish!


In the quiet of the country, a sick, twisted man kidnaps young adults in the dark of night, binds them by heavy chain 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...

A small-budget, independent production can be hit-or-miss. Live Animals is the kind where you wonder what the filmmakers could do with a bigger budget. The story of a group of young people kidnapped to be broken, beaten, then sold into white slavery is a nasty, dark slab of Grindhouse-style grimness that left me equally surprised and upset.

Sequences in the stables and out in dark, open country are isolating. They get you to start thinking about the vastness of the American plains and how easy it can be for people to vanish. Those in question here are a batch of naturalistic young actors not overplaying fear set against a second set who do an accomplished job of portraying banal, simple “day at the office” evil. Infrequent, well-done gore and several sequences use cross-cutting, silence, and simple piano chords that are more effective than you see in most low-budget films. While definitely of the “Torture Porn” genre (why do these movies love chains so much?), and a definite exploitation picture, the craftsmanship is definitely present here. I felt the fear and cruelty the filmmakers wanted to express more here than I do in more horror films; budgets big or small. More importantly, there’s a couple twists I did not see coming, a sign that this film can get you engaged and caring about the characters.
Live Animals is recommendable for style, pacing, and the genuine talent behind it. However, the viewer is cautioned that the skill brings home the hopelessness of the situations presented in a way many films of it’s ilk would like to accomplish. It’s a dark journey you’re taking with filmmakers who deserve a bigger budget... and the script for a simple drama with a happy ending.

Beyond simple scene selection, the disc features three items of bonus content: "A View From The Crate: The Making Of Live Animals" is a 17 minute behind-the-scenes featurette, "Behind The Digital Curtain" is a 22 minute spot about a few digital effects flourishes they added to the film and it's presented as a "How You Can Do This At Home" feature, which lends it a lot of charm. It's also fairly informative for the lay viewer to see just how much goes into something as simple as a Green Screen Compositing shot. Finally there's 15 minutes of deleted scenes. They fill a few story-telling gaps, but the film does just as well without them.
Live Animals is 84 minutes and unrated. There are no audio or subtitle options.


This "Hostel for the horsey-set" is equal parts stunning and depressing, well-done and moving. It's not upbeat, or optimistic, and it's NOT for kids. However, there’s something more eloquent than simple "goreno." It’s a trip worth taking, but it isn’t pleasant.

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