My notes on Feral, which had its world premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival.
Young and homeless Yazmin (Annapurna Sriram) lives in the tunnels under New York – oddly, she seems to be the only denizen of her lair, which might have been abandoned by others who have left their detritus behind to disappear – and survives by dressing up in outfits and wigs that make her a reasonable facsimile of an aboveground, slightly edgy chick … rooting through garbage for food, hustling a would-be seducer (Kevin Hoffman) by leaving him lathered in the shower while she runs off with his vinyl collection (ten dollars for Moondog, who gets special placement as a street prophet/homeless genius), having off-key conversations with folk in the park where she seems to be the reassuring philosopher, and attracting the odd random act of senseless violence. And a blizzard is coming, which will likely rack up a body count of people with nowhere warm to go.
Director Andrew Wonder – who co-wrote with Priscilla Kavanaugh and Jason Mendez – and star Sriram create a terrific central character, the daughter of a deportee who has fallen through the cracks but isn’t a basket case, though she is instinctively suspicious of people who really are trying to help her. When a nice Puerto Rican woman (Aurora Flores) calls people from her church to intervene, Yazmin shouts ‘Judas!’ before going along with it, and talking out some of her backstory in to-camera documentary style. The film has an interesting look too, inhabiting the sort of NYC margins seen in the documentary Dark Days or vintage sleaze like The Driller Killer, but with a sparkly, almost lovely look – the cold may be deadly, but it gives the harsh city a magical patina. Sriram is likely to land higher-profile work after her star turn here – it’s a deeply felt performance, but cannily doesn’t beg for sympathy (we might even wonder if the songwriter deserves to have his records ripped off) while the authorities aren’t depicted as uncaring caricatures or menacing hoods (the business about ICE isn’t stressed, though it’s in plain sight that Yazmin is a particular type of victim of contemporary America).
Brief enough not to wear out its welcome, and tactful in its depiction of horrors – the one instance of violence is barely shown, but Yazmin is facially bruised for half the picture – if more of a sketch than a story.
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