Animosity a Masterpiece of Horror from Brenden Steere

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There’s something inherently terrifying about the forest. In our modern world of suburbs and pizza delivery, air conditioning and streaming services, the remote, unspoiled areas beyond the city are a connection to a collective past before civilization arose. Those wooded realms hold secrets, and sprites lurk there that, once unleashed, cannot be contained, and it’s with little wonder that so many legends, myths and fairy tales are associated with such rural barrens. After all, Hansel and Gretyl follow that path into the woods and…

Horror films have always traded on this fear of seclusion. The first wave of slasher cinema established in the early 1980’s spearheaded the utilization of the classic campfire tale as a means to petrify for profit. Led by Friday the 13th and compounded by Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead (itself based on his early student project titled Into The Woods), placing a cast in the dark bowers of man’s domain almost insures frightful beasts will bedevil them. Isolation becomes a character in and of itself, an obstacle to overcome as much as any on-screen adversary.

Originally playing to acclaim on the festival circuit in 2013 but only now receiving widespread distribution, Wildeye Releasing’s latest offering, Animosity, builds on such sequestered distress to instill some of the most intensely unique and thought-provoking terrors in recent memory. Writer-director Brenden Steere’s intricately crafted masterpiece reworks stock notions of zombies, ghosts, the haunted house and, yes, the wilderness, into a must-see experience.

After an opening scene involving a mother murdering her own daughter with a circular saw, an average couple--typical office worker Mike (Marcin Paluch), and his horror film-score maestro wife Carrie (Tracy Willet), move into an out-of-the-way cabin. Their hope of peace and quiet is soon shattered, however, first by the appearance of gun-loving roughneck neighbor Tom (Stephan Goldbach), and then by the sounds anxiety-prone Carrie hears throughout their new abode at night. Any notions of a haunting are quickly dashed when a young man hiding in the attic escapes the cabin and is subsequently murdered by Tom. When Carrie herself is also apparently killed, only to wake again in perfect health the next morning, questions are raised as to her true nature. The answers only come once she uncovers a trove of hidden files on her husband’s computer: videotaped experiments filmed by Tom, Mike and his co-worker Carl (Tom Martin) as they torture and kill Carrie hundreds of times in an attempt to uncover the origin of her regenerative abilities. Each night Carrie resurrects without a memory of her previous death, but the knowledge of the experiments breaks the cycle and Carrie’s plight becomes one of escape. But can she? Or will the barriers her captors implemented kill her once and for all?

Animosity’s storyline is a beguiling million-piece mosaic, revealed to the audience in tantalizing fractal fragments. Steere uses his directorial hands as skillfully as a master sculptor, steadily lulling viewers into a false sense of security before knocking all their suppositions aside with one wild twist after another, and the mystery at the core of the film bristles with concepts both explored and deliberately vague. Is Carrie, as Tom and Carl repeatedly insists, some sort of undead creature? Is the cabin itself responsible for resurrecting the dead? And what is the invisible barrier around the property’s perimeter that prevents Carrie’s flight?

Such ambiguity can sometimes dampen a film’s impact, but when enacted properly can lead to an ever-quickening, nerve-shredding dread. Showing the audience only bits and pieces of what’s gone before and emphasizing the normal over the outrageous amplifies the unease until the pattern breaks down and bloody chaos reigns. The performances, too, deserve substantial merit: once revealed as the movie’s true villain, Martin’s Carl personifies cold scientific calculation; his only interest lies in uncovering the facts regarding Carrie’s ability and will stop at nothing to attain them. In contrast, the more emotionally driven Mike, despite participating in the perpetual murder of his wife, retains a twisted form of love for her nonetheless. Yet the film truly belongs to Willet; she boldly infuses scenes of apprehension, fear and anguish with a striking fatalistic resonance, struggling not only with the search for identity, but her own humanity.

Forceful and startlingly moving, Animosity displays as much pained heartache as it does mayhem during the depths of its dark journey and as such earns the full 5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. To everyone involved: THANK YOU. 

5.0 / 5.0