Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Starring Fiore Leo, Michael Reardon, Robert Hines, Johanna Gorton, Christina C. Crawford
Directed by Christopher DiNunzio
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You remember that show "When Animals Attack" with all the fuzzy camcorder footage of events that start off with some public access talk show or new intrepid reporter or whatever standing near a seemingly docile "tame" animal that then proceeds to try and eat their face right the fuck off? Well, I think someone needs to make a similar show called "When Good Ideas Go Bad" for films like Christopher DiNunzio's Livestock.
Don't get me wrong -- the movie is not terrible. But it is very frustrating. Livestock is primarily the story of Victor (Leo). We first meet him as he's getting promoted in "The Pack" by creepy higher up Edgar (Hines) for his willingness to do whatever it takes to protect the family, an assertion which is followed up by a scene in which Victor and another lackey named Dimitri accompany Edgar to a deserted auto body shop to meet with a man named Ted Costa who's planning on running for Senate. Unfortunately for Ted, he knows too much about Edgar's Pack for his own good and Victor dispatches him. Apart from some slight awkwardness in these opening scenes, it's really not a bad start to what is clearly a practically no-budget feature. If only I could honestly say the same about the rest of the film.
What unfolds after this is where my frustration comes from. We are introduced to several more characters, including Annabel (Gorton), Tina (Crawford), and Anthony (Reardon). While all three are at least decently competent actors, there's little to no depth to their characters whatsoever. When you're working on such a small budget and can't manage the big scares or extensive make-up, we need to really care about the characters, and that doesn't happen here.
We learn Annabel likes horror movies, just got out of a bad relationship, and is kind of pensive and Tina is a slut with a new job via a scene of Sex & The City-esque girl talk (complete with Cosmos!). Anthony is the sort of cute but stereotypically moody screw-up who is some sort of subordinate to Victor. But that's it. When Anthony abducts Annabel and her Internet suitor and we learn Tina is having an affair with Victor – these should be big impact moments. But they're not. Aside from the underdeveloped characters, the plot itself is loose and confusing. Annabel and her date are going to be the main course for the Pack's annual feast, which would be a good opportunity to provide the meat (no pun intended) of the film, especially considering we've gotten to know her a little better than Tina, but very little suspense is built up before she's quickly dispatched, which left me confused as to why she was presented as the female lead.
At this point, I thought perhaps the story would now focus on Tina, an intern who wants to work her way up the political ladder and is hoping Victor and his connections with Edgar can help her. It turns out Tina is going to attend this big feast with Victor. "Ah-ha!" I say to myself. Maybe she set up Annabel and there's a big evil thing going on with her. But no, apparently she had no idea, and when she finds out that Victor and his Pack are planning on eating people, she panics.
Which leads me to another issue I had … what exactly ARE Victor and his "Pack"? At first, I was thinking "Hmmm, the PACK … must be werewolves!" And there's some substantiation of that idea. Anthony mentions changing with the moon and Victor talks about being part of the "Order of the 11 Wolves" … seems pretty wolfy to me. But they don't change into anything, nor do they ever act very animalistic. Also, I'm pretty sure wolves don't rape their prey before eating it. So then there's the fact that they develop pronounced canines when in the throes of bloodlust, which then recede, and the deaths that take place mostly involve the throat. So they must be vampires … Except there's nothing else to insinuate they are. They're out in the daylight, not overly pale, no mention of aversion to crosses. But wait … Edgar's feast speech harkens their origins back to the half-human child of a Hindu goddess raised on the blood and flesh of humans. So maybe they're just cannibals. I don't mind some things not being spelled out, but the fact that there was absolutely no clear disambiguation of the Pack felt like a weakness in the story.
Making a movie isn't easy. It takes a lot of time, hard word, and passion. I have a certain degree of respect for anyone that does it, no matter how good the final product is (or isn't). And I don't want to give the impression that Livestock was awful or painfully bad in any way. The acting was decent, the cinematography was competent, and the score was good. The idea behind the story even seems to have been a good one. But by the end of the film, I was perplexed and irritated. We spent way too long with incidental characters and doings that were unnecessary. Very little actually happened, and the movie ended incredibly abruptly, just when I thought things might get good. If the hour and a half run-time was edited down to maybe 30 minutes, this would be a really good opening for a feature film. But that's all it felt like -- the slow set-up to a movie I didn't get to see.
For all its faults I can see something beneath the surface of Livestock. There is obvious passion, and even talent too. It's got pacing problems and story weaknesses, but for a first effort it is not unimpressive. Provided his next work has a stronger story and a tough hand in the editing process, I look forward to what DiNunzio does in the future.
3 out of 5
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