[North Bend Film Fest] FERAL Review: A Different Kind of Survival Horror

By: Emily von Seele


Feral isn’t a traditional horror story. In fact, we might not call it horror at all, which is fine. But it is a story with a harsh truth at the center of it, and sometimes seeing the truth is even more horrifying than being faced with imaginary monsters.

Feral follows Yaz (Annapurna Sriram), a young woman who makes her home in the abandoned tunnels underneath New York City. We follow her as she makes her way through the city — above and below — interacting with people she meets along the way, collecting the things that she needs to survive, dodging various dangers, and, occasionally, finding moments of peace.

The film does a good job at showing the reality of Yaz’s life without resorting to exploiting it. Yes, Yaz is a fictional character, but she lives in the real world. A world populated by many like her, living in the tunnels of an underground region below the reality of the rest of us. And that’s the beauty of this film — the way it blends fiction and fact and stays true to its own authenticity.

Director Andrew Wonder uses actors and non-actors (many were former homeless people themselves) to tell this story, and the lines between fact and fiction are quick to blur. Yes, the story is scripted, but it is shot with such a vérité style and incorporates the personal experiences of so many people involved that it feels like more than a simple fictional narrative. The narrative of the story finds the Truth at the heart of it, and it is there that Feral shines.

It is an emotional journey, due heavily to this vérité style. Every time Yaz’s journey stumbles, we fear for her, and every time she finds a happy moment, we share it with her, but also feel an underlying uncertainty because we know that for her, these moments are hard to come by and never last. Through the fiction that we see her live, we see the stories of millions of others who are experiencing something similar. We see how reliant they are on themselves because it’s hard to trust anyone else. We see how easily the systems put in place to help can exploit and fail. We see that, as much as we care for Yaz, it’s not easy to help her.

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