Put aside first impressions, challenge your classism, and allow a stranger’s journey in an unfamiliar world wash over you. Feral is an honest but surprisingly uplifting character study, as dark as the streets our main character walks. The only guarantee that the future will hold better days for our main character is her persistence to live a life of her own creation. Directed by Andrew Wonder from a script by Priscilla Kavanaugh, Jason Mendez and himself, Feral celebrated it’s world premiere at the 2019 Sarasota Film Festival. The films stars Sara Wharton, Doug Drucker, Jonathan Rentler, and an outstanding performance from Annapurna Sriram.
Yazmine (Annapurna Sriram) lives in the dark and cold subway tunnels under New York’s city streets. Shot in the same transit tunnels under Manhattan that were used in the documentary Dark Days (2000), Yazmine has carved out a small living space for herself. There is no light, there is no heat, but there is also no judgment and she can live a life by her own standards. She doesn’t need to hear what people think of her to know that her life is radically different than everyone around her. Yazmine isn’t living for anyone other than herself. She isn’t perfect, and there is plenty of self-care ahead for her, but as she explains to a stranger unsure about the struggles of motherhood, “You can’t change in a day, and sometimes you get to a point where the only way forward is inward”.
Yazmine is smart and street-smart. Those two things are very different, and rarely are you shown both in a character living on the streets. She hasn’t been given all the opportunities for a standard education, but Yazmine is no fool. Taken away from her mother and any semblance of a normal life, Yazmine has lived a live all her own, on her own, for years now. She has clothing, a place to call home, and the wits to scavenge or steal the rest. Yazmine is strong, self-sufficient, and creative but her way of life comes at the cost of losing her dignity, the one thing she can’t find hidden in the purse of a good samaritan or buried in the bottom of a black garbage bag. She can’t hold out a sign asking for anyone to give it to her like spare change and to see her grapple with the moments where she’s lost something so basic – something we all take for granted, is brutal.
The film has a wandering, immersive story structure, not unlike documentary narratives. As much as our contemporary Netflix documentaries try their best to construct their stories like well-timed roller coaster rides, real-life stories very rarely play out like orchestrated fiction. Real life is unpredictable and rough. Character development happens in unexpected places, and the plot can turn on a dime. Complimenting that is the handheld camerawork of cinematographer/director Andrew Wonder, whose previous credits include the documentaries Venice 70: The Future Reloaded (2013) and Seed (2017). The camera is trained on Yazmine as though she were a teen starlet or a test subject, always somewhere near by, capturing her every move.
It’s cliche to describe the camera as “a fly on the wall”, but by buzzing around each scene, squeezing in to spaces maybe a little too tight for it to fit, Wonder finds intimate moments in Yazmine’s experience that feel like genuine discoveries “in the moment”. As if the camera happened to be in the right place at the right time, and not the other way around. In one particular scene, a woman that has taken her in for the night invites Yazmine to find something to watch on television and make herself at-home. In a close-up shot that feels so honest to her character, we see Yazmine run her finger across the surface of the tv remote the way an archaeologist might inspect a relic of a time long since forgotten. It’s a small moment, but one that highlights the humanity living just below the surface. How long has it been since she’s touched a remote? Sat in a living room?
Feral is directed by Andrew Wonder, who also holds a writing credit alongside Priscilla Kavanaugh and Jason Mendez. Feral celebrated its world premiere April 7th at the 2019 Sarasota Film Festival. Let us know if you’re excited to see Andrew Wonder’s Feral, and if you were in the audience of the premiere on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!