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Film Review: Industrial Animals (2016)

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Industrial Animals is a very small film in almost every measurable metric. Weighing in at roughly 61 minutes, this low budget, found footage film from the UK features a cast of just three people who also cover many of the behind the scenes credits as well. In fact, the entire story takes place over a three-day span, mostly in one simple setting. But while all of the factors add up to a “small” film, when all is said and done, Industrial Animals ends up packing a fairly strong and somewhat unexpected punch.

The story, as expected, is fairly straight-forward: two guys (Elliot, the main participant, played by Sam Mason-Bell, and Owens, the camera operator, played by Thomas Davenport) set out to make a documentary about a woman who works as a prostitute (Chavonne? There are no credits giving the characters names, but she is portrayed well by Tamsin Howland), detailing her job and what types of things she will and won’t do for money. And from the first moments that the documentary filmmakers arrive at her house and take a short tour, then sit down for a brief interview with the woman, it’s hard for any audience even vaguely familiar with horror films to believe the guys don’t have some kind of ulterior motive, probably of the sadistic and/or nefarious persuasion. As if on cue, after a short bit of standard fare sexual activity, the guys suggest humiliation next. The woman is subjected to belt-whipping, name-calling, and is even pissed on by both men. Eventually, she suggests humiliation again, but with the roles reversed, and it’s soon obvious that while Elliot is more than happy to be the giver of punishment, he has some deep-seated issues that provoke anger in him when he has to be on the receiving end.

As mentioned before, this small crew does almost everything. Sam Mason-Bell (director of over 40 features and shorts, including work seen in Trash Arts’ Home Videos and the Artsploitation release, A Taste of Phobia) is not only Elliot on screen, he’s also the director of the film, the co-writer, the co-producer, and the editor. Thomas Davenport (cinematographer for a number of Mason-Bell’s previous films) plays the camera operator, Owens, and also really is the camera operator for the film. And Tamsin Howland not only makes her screen debut in Industrial Animals as the prostitute, but she also co-wrote and co-produced the film. Add in some great music by the non-acting Oleg Hammel, and that’s pretty much everybody. The three actors work well together on screen, conveying the embarrassment and aggression and insecurity that are needed at times while also capturing convincing dialogue, and the fact that they were essentially the entire filmmaking team no doubt helped the evident camaraderie.

Industrial Animals has a couple surprises in store for the audience and manages to subvert a couple expectations in the meantime. This is a Trash Arts film that has been picked up by Troma, but it is a far cry from The Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke ‘Em High. And despite the subject matter, there is not only a distinct lack of sleaziness or overly-exploitative material, but while there is obviously lots of sex and sexually-related acts, most happens under covers or off screen or in other ways non-explicitly. What all of this means is that this is a film that rides on its story and its ability to tell that story convincingly, not one that relies on an over-abundance of T&A to cover what lacks in actual plot. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but this is just not that kind of film.

Howland and Mason-Bell have managed to make a surprisingly interesting and well-played thriller with a good bit of suspense and tension sprinkled in along the way. Industrial Animals does not end up the movie that a casual audience expects it to be after seeing the posters and reading the taglines. It’s more like Be My Cat: A Film for Anne meets a far tamer, less graphic Niku Daruma (Tumbling Doll of Flesh). It’s smarter than many of its peers, with a far better ending, and it looks so much bigger than a three-person microbudget indie effort.

 

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