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FERAL (2019) – Sarasota Film Festival

With a title like Feral and a plot involving a woman living in the subway tunnels under New York City, you could be excused for expecting some kind of a horror film. The fact its IMDB page tags it as “Adventure, Drama, Thriller” adds to those expectations.

However, the film’s press release dispels that idea. “At once an examination of loneliness and the masks we wear to face the world, Andrew Wonder’s FERAL tells the story of Yasmine, a young woman living in the tunnels underneath Manhattan’s West Side. Surviving on her own terms while trying to build a new life alone, she is reeling from the loss of her mother, who was deported when she was only sixteen.”

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Feral is a drama about homelessness, and to a degree, mental illness. And it’s a strong drama. One that comes a lot closer to the reality of living on, or under, the streets than most fictional films. There’s none of the whitewashing and sanitizing we see in larger budget films. It’s a bleak and disturbing look at a growing problem. Director Andrew Wonder and his co-writers Priscilla Kavanaugh and Jason Mendez based the film on actual accounts from the homeless. The results speak for themselves.

Feral unfolds in the days before a powerful snowstorm is forecast to hit the city. We follow Yasmine (Annapurna Sriram, South Of Hell) as she goes about her life and tries to find somewhere to ride out the storm. Much of it is told through her interactions with the people she meets. Such as the guy who she convinces to take her home so she can rob him (Kevin Hoffman) The woman who regrets motherhood (Sarah Wharton). A lonely older woman (Aurora Flores) offering food and reminisces about her past, And the addict mother (Sonia Mena) who would “blow anyone to be able to get out of here”.

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The tunnels used in Feral are the same ones used in the documentary Dark Days. Indeed, they would make a good double feature. And as inhospitable and cold as they look, they still seem a better option than The Mission. With its humiliating rules and the sanctimonious assholes who staff it, it’s more like a prison than a refuge. It explains why so many homeless would rather risk the cold and physical violence outside. It’s more attractive than many shelter’s cold comfort and emotional violence.

Feral made its premiere at this year’s Sarasota Film Festival with a second showing April 8th. And will be playing other festivals going forward. See it if it plays near you.

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