Feral is the latest genre flick seeking to stretch its found footage muscle. Rather than opting for a grainy hand-held romp through its storyline as we’ve grown accustomed to with our found footage fare, Feral opts for the faux documentary approach. We interview several subjects, and are even treated to a few news broadcasts alongside the meat and bones of this story: several beta max tapes, recorded by the subject himself.
Juan Felipe (Hector Illanes) is a priest, once a deeply religious monk who has left the church to live an isolated life deep in the mountains of Oaxaca. As the story plays out documentary style, we know right at the top the mystery that will unfold ahead of us, and director Andrés Kaiser holds nothing back – a news broadcast depicts the end of Juan Felipe‘s story, right at the very beginning.
The remains of four bodies were discovered in the smoldering ashes of a fire. One man and three children. The grainy broadcast pauses on the ashy and burnt remains of what looks to be a human foot. The man is identified as Juan Felipe, the children go unidentified. As if they never existed. Along its journey, interviewing those close to him – Feral will seek to answer two questions. Who are they? And, What happened?
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Through archival footage of video diaries, the picture slowly unravels. A man who has isolated himself, insulated by his resolute and profound relationship with a capital “G” god. He keeps few relationships; a neighbour, and a woman whom he will eventually employ. It isn’t until Juan Felipe discovers a feral child in the woods – completely lacking any evidence of human interaction or understanding – that we begin to crack the exterior and really see who Juan Felipe is. With the help of his neighbour, who justly recommends they bring the boy to the town to be handled by medical professionals only to be rebuffed by Felipe, they corral the boy into Felipe’s guardianship.
It’s an adoption without paperwork, as the boy – who will eventually be called Cristóbal (Farid Escalante Correa), becomes both a son and a pet project to Felipe. We watch several tender moments documented between the two; teaching Cristóbal to sit in a chair, how to walk, how his vocal chords work, and then – most impressively – trust in another human being.
In another odd stroke, two more feral children find their way into Felipe’s care. The pair are younger, and have definitely survived some trauma to which we can’t altogether conclude – the children were imprisoned inside a cave, in some mysterious religious shrine. They are completely devoid of light, and as they are also quite young, they’re development seems to always trail that of Cristóbal’s.
“What unravels is a dramatic and profoundly frightening story of faith and conviction.”
What unravels is a dramatic and profoundly frightening story of faith and conviction. The more we pick through the archival footage, the more we see that Felipe’s religious conviction blinds his actions. There is a horrifying disconnect between care and practice.
Though Feral is more a slow and brooding drama than an outright horror film, it expertly uses the faux documentary format to explore the life of a character so devoutly lost. Combined with terrific performances by the children, Juan Felipe, and even the brief interviews with professionals and friends, this journey is a haunting one. One that ends right where it starts.
Feral celebrated its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2018. Check out all of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantastic Fest coverage here!