Full disclosure, I tend to have a soft spot in my heart for most things (creative, artistic, food related) that come out of the sometimes-great-state-of Arizona. Growing up in Arizona and since moving elsewhere has rendered me a bit of a nostalgic when it comes to the scenery and any references to the Grand Canyon state. So, from the start Animus had some good will in my ledger having been shot mostly around Tuscon and Bisbee Arizona and including great shots of the Sonoran desert, palo verde trees and referencing stuff around the University of Arizona. Wanted to get that out of the way, as insignificant as it might be.
The film tells a pretty familiar story of young, student types heading out to investigate an abandoned hospital for documentary evidence of a paranormal presence for the final project of their non-fiction film class. The central character Maya (played by the utterly arresting Megan Davis) is also contending with a cad of a boyfriend/ex-boyfriend side story that serves to motivate her to get out and do something new, exciting and get out of town. She is flanked by Angel (Caitlin Singer – a stunt performer at Old Tucson Studios I found out from the commentary track), Lucas (Cuffs Bratten), the small bladdered Mekalia (Tiffany Ann B) and Daniel (Brandon Pittman). A scene at the start of the film gives some insight into what might be haunting the hospital as well as later references to a potentially sad/dangerous incident (shown in dream sequences) in Maya’s past. These things add color to the overall story, but aren’t too exposition heavy.
I want to be fair to director Quin Davis and not hold the budget or scale against him. I figure that, when you set out to make a horror movie on the low end, you have to work with what you have and make the most of it. In that sense, Animus is absolutely great. The effects work is awfully good and there are many shots in/around Tucson and later in the hospital that are very well crafted and balanced. So often, you see a first feature and want to reach through the screen and move the camera somewhere to get a more interesting shot. By and large, this is not the case with Animus as Davis really sets up shots well. Once they are essentially trapped at the hospital, a different kind of threat emerges beyond just a ghost (picture a large mutant-y looking prospector guy, part Yosemite Sam, part creature from the Descent with a saw thing affixed to his arm) and the group gets reduced in pretty quick fashion.
In is in this that the best aspects of the film emerge – again with the use of the camera in/around the hospital and below in tunnels offset by the bloody results of the attacks by the inhabitant of the hospital. One aspect of the monster in particular really got me – as he is stalking the group members and generally stomping around, raging and such, he stops to sniff the air and snarls in a low grumble. Whatever it was about this, I don’t know but it unsettled me pretty well. It seems to suggest a long born adaptive behavior more animal than human and gave me the chills.
All in all, there are many things to like about Animus despite its small budget and limited scope for story and execution. The effects are quite good and enjoyable for what they are – I was reminded a little of A Cadaver Christmas in terms of seeing the effort on screen – a filmmaker not phoning it in and instead trying to have fun with the material. I hope, sincerely, that Quin Davis continues his special effects work through his company and gets more chances to work through narrative features because I definitely think Animus is a good start.