A group of friends who go on vacation to a remote cabin are kidnapped by a group of men during the night. The group awakens the next day to find themselves chained and enclosed in separate animal stalls in a barn. When their kidnapper arrives at the barn, he immediately makes an example of one of them, talking about the importance of breaking in a human to do whatever they want. Eventually, some guy comes along and 'buys' one of the girls that's being held captive. She is then "boxed up" to be shipped overseas. The remaining friends must now find a way to escape.
Really? Another torture porn flick? Oh lucky me! As much as I hope that people would finally come to their senses and stop putting out SAW and HOSTEL knock-offs, it seems that's not going to happen any time soon. Sure, some of them try to do something new, but in the case of LIVE ANIMALS, the only thing new is the hole in my wall from my fist.
I do have to give the film props for the tension and suspense. The film for the most part is filled with situations where tension is put on high, and writer/director Jeremy Benson pulls the power of suggestion card a couple of times, showing the aftermath of some heinous situations but avoids showing the actual deed. For those who want the full monty, however, Benson also puts in scenes that show everything, leaving the gorehounds in the audience happy.
Acting is okay, but the problem largely stems from the lack of character development from the script. For us to be scared, you have to give us characters that we give a damn about. LIVE ANIMALS tries to do it, but ends up getting stuck with having these folks go through the whole torture porn ride, and the development taking a back seat. But even all that takes second place when you realize that the film misses out on a big opportunity to distance itself from the other clones.
So the premise behind the film is the idea of human trafficking, which unfortunately isn't an isolated phenomenon in the world. If done correctly, a film that uses this idea could be pretty potent in its terrorizing of the audience. LIVE ANIMALS appears at first to try and do this with the dramatic kidnapping at the beginning of the film, and eluding to the whole 'breaking a person's will' thing. Unfortunately, the film doesn't follow through on the psychological horror it promises. Instead it just has your torture and brutality, with none of the characters' mindsets being changed in the slightest.
Ultimately, the film descends into torture and blood for the sake of, well, torture and blood. Which don't get me wrong, sometimes you want to see a film like this, but only if it involves clichéd asshole characters getting it in over-the-top fashion, or involves characters that the audience has invested time in to care about. None of that's here, obviously. Sure, those who dug HOSTEL and the other torture porn flicks it spawned will like what they see here, but ultimately it's nothing new, and is a 'fire and forget' film.
Video: In what might be an attempt to get across the grittiness of the ordeal (or just a lack of budget), the film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen that is filled with grain. There's also quite a bit of compression artifacts in some of the dimly-lit scenes (most notably the cabin), and the colour suffers in these shots as well. Really, what'd you expect when the film was initially shot in HD and downconverted? Kind of ugly in spots, but it's watchable.
Audio: The film shows its indie roots with the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, which sounds hollow in spots but does its job. Think 'made-for-TV' quality.
A View From The Crate: The Making Of Live Animals is a 17-minute featurette that explores the genesis of the project, which was over a dinner conversation, incidently. And a scene in PINNOCHIO. Director Jeremy Benson also delves into the 'no-budget' approach to certain shots, as well as showing footage of the cast goofing off and having fun.
Deleted Scenes are just trimmings of clips amounting to 20 minutes worth. Most of them involve building the characters a bit, as well as others having a more traditional slasher movie feel to them, which was probably why they were cut.
Lastly, and probably one of the more interesting extras, is Behind The Digital Curtain, which has Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Volzer going through digital effects on a budget. The guy goes over boom mic removal, green-screen compositing and gunshots and bullet hits, showing how each layer is broken down and how they fit together. It would've been nice to have had the 'here's the entire shot as it was filmed, here's how it looks before we fix anything, and here's how it looks in the final film' visual example at the end of each explanation, but these are still quite interesting for those effects junkies like myself.
While I'm not enamored with the whole torture porn genre, don't get me wrong. I liked the original SAW for being, well, original. LIVE ANIMALS isn't a total waste if you're looking for another HOSTEL clone that from the outset appears to do something different, but ultimately isn't. It's another one that you leave your brain at the door for, and if you're into that sort of thing when you watch these types of flicks, then more power to you. Everyone else looking for something new and different will end up disappointed at the attempt.