Feral is a short film directed by Daniel Sousa that dwells on the idea of struggle. There is struggle shown in two different environments (the wilderness and also suburban life). The film focuses on one boy’s transition between these two worlds and his struggle to survive in both. His actions are as feral as an animal’s, but his emotions are also very human. This film does an impeccable job of conveying truth of the emotions festering within us all. It’s not always a proper string of feelings. Sometimes, feelings are raw, messy, chaotic bombs waiting to go off.
The film starts with breathing in the background, almost like it’s part of the soundtrack. It’s followed by the sound of a rustling creak. Together, these sounds create an intense, raw tension. As the screen fills with the main character huddled up and breathing, the title appears Feral in a lettering that looks made out of fog. I think that opening alone is quite interesting and that it sets up this theme of struggle in a harsh environment. More specifically, it shows how someone may be shaped by their environment as a result of its extreme condition.
The immediate cut from the title opening to the animal running in the forest was extraordinary. It made me shiver with intrigue. The animation in this film was full of remarkable layers. Everything had a sufficient amount of variation in the shading, the movement of the characters and the soft texture of the images. There was a flickering occurring almost all the time with the different characters. It added to the intensity of the environment and it also was just stunning to watch on screen. It made the characters look like they were trembling in a way or at the very least that they were not settled. Something was unpredictable about their demeanor.
The way that the main character breathes and stares at the wolf and then starts howling was done so gracefully. The motion was swift and it was also spectacularly chilling to watch. The shadow of the main character on the tree was made to look more like the shape of the wolf’s head and I think that decision has to do with the theme of our environment shaping who we are. This kid is adapting and pretending to be one of the animals, therefore disregarding human behavior, in order to survive in his setting.
The film just really moves on its own because of the animation, the fluidity of the actions shown and the sounds that are played throughout. For example, one of my favorite moments is when the hunter shows up and takes the boy with him. The mash-up of shots of the gun being fired and then the image of the dead animal to the boy running around madly is so evocative. It says a lot in the drama without relying on dialogue at all. Also the primitive way that the boy reacts to the man’s attempt to nurture is telling of the conflict between environments. It’s a bit of culture shock for the boy to be nurtured at all when he was living out in the wilderness on his own. He is uncertain of this new threat he sees and cannot really translate the idea of being held and comforted. When the man does hold him, the boy is glowing in the shot. It shows how powerful this small act of kindness is for the boy and perhaps how it changes his state of mind from feral to something else. The guitar work that arrives right afterward as the camera moves to the trees with flecks of green is peaceful. The sun showers in the sky amongst the pale color palette and finally we get to see the boy’s eyes. Waiting so long to reveal the boy’s eyes was a wise choice. It clearly expresses the transition from being a part of the harsh wilderness like the trees, the snow, and animals to being a human being.
The scene with the boy interacting with other children is frightening. It gave me anxiety perhaps because it brings back the memory of primary school days ripe with bullying and lousy classmates. The shadow passing over them is a way to hint at the separation between him and the other kids in terms of the way they were raised. When one of the kids makes fun of the main character, his first instinct again is to get aggressive. He is doing what he was prepared to do with the wolves. This weapon known as laughter is foreign to him though and he isn’t sure how to fight back against it. As the laughter rises, it becomes similar to the howls of the wolves in that it’s an approaching threat. It won’t kill him, but it’s still traumatizing. Worse, it’s something he cannot physically fight off.
One of the most interesting things this film did visually was show the morphing into different shapes at the end. He changed into all kinds of different animals and each one represented a state of being. It expressed a feeling he experienced. For example, the wolf is definitely representing aggression as a defense mechanism. The bird is representing the desire to be free of the world and to run away and finally find peace. The leaf is representing change. It all means something and what makes this film so compelling to experience is the focus on sensation. The film is saying in loud volume that life is raw and traumatizing whether we’re barely surviving in the cold wilderness or whether we’re fighting off bullies at school. Sometimes, the trauma never ends and words aren’t enough. All we can do is breathe.