Night of the Wild is a 90 minute horror flick set to premiere on the Syfy channel this Saturday October 3, 2015. Honestly, since The Asylum is affiliated with this release and they are the motion picture production, financing, and worldwide distribution company to blame for the Sharknado franchise, I was less than optimistic about this. Add to that the reality that the quality of made for tv movies generally leaves much to be desired, and you have expectations for a pretty underwhelming way to spend an hour and a half. The Syfy channel in particular has been chastised in recent years for their reliance on CGI effects in place of real FX and quality acting. With that being said, Night of the Wild employed practical effects and opted for quality talent, and the difference is astounding.
First, to address the weakest point of the film. The premise is typical Syfy channel fare. The audience is to believe that when a meteor crashes in a quiet town, pet dogs are suddenly rendered mysteriously aggressive. Rather than simply growling or snapping at strangers, dogs begin attacking and killing the town’s residents and their owners. A teenager named Roslyn is out camping with her friends when the events begin to unfold, and viewers must watch as she and her loyal dog Shep struggle to rejoin her family and escape the area before the beasts take over the town. True to form, this plot presents a few issues that may pose a threat to the suspension of disbelief in general film-goers. Why doesn’t anyone notice a bright green, glowing meteor shower? Why would only some dogs be affected? (Note: A flimsy pseudo-explanation is offered for why one dog in particular might not be influenced by the impact, but that only raises more questions.) However since many horror fans are accustomed to dismissing worse crimes of logic, those issues are less than show stopping.
One of the greatest strengths of the film is the talents blended to create the movie. We can attribute some of the picture’s ability to the director, Eric Red. His name may sound familiar to horror fans because he was the writer of the 1986 film, The Hitcher, and he also penned the screenplay for the 2007 remake. He wrote Near Dark as well as wrote and directed 100 Feet, the horror/thriller starring Famke Janssen. Red prides himself on creating dark, edgy pieces and his talent shines in this feature, despite a few obligatory scenes of gratuitous violence. The same can be said of Rob Morrow, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor best known for his role on Northern Exposure. Morrow isn’t the only household name from outside the horror genre they recruited for this project, however. Kelly Rutherford of Melrose Place and perhaps most recently Gossip Girl fame was also cast in a leading role. Vampire Diaries fans will likely recognize Tristin Mays, who proves her capability in a number of scenes.
Even more surprising were the relatively new actors who were a part of the film who ran with the opportunity. Newcomer Christin Rankins played the groomer who has been shown extensively in the trailers popping up online opposite former Real Housewives of New York City star, Jill Zarin. Rankins is a natural in front of the camera. Her delivery has a believability that is a rarity in made for tv horror. While Zarin has years of experience on television to her credit, Night of the Wild is her first film appearance as well. The reality star turned actress confided in a recent interview that she wants to be a scream queen, and would love to revisit horror in a related role or by way of another opportunity. With this strong start, I would welcome seeing Zarin in another horror film.
In addition to having a strong cast and crew, the practical effects were remarkably well done. There were a few scenes where it was more obvious that the cast members weren’t wrestling actual animals, but the majority of the film’s scenes did seem to feature actual dogs and clever camera work. It’s always wonderful when practical FX are given an opportunity to shine, and this film was an exemplary opportunity to do that. (Want more on the decline of practical FX? Read on here.) Like Cujo before it, vicious dog movies like Night of the Wild don’t require the same level of high end tweaking and CGI that other creature features and horror films may. Choosing to err on the side of simplicity when shooting this movie was an excellent choice and makes for a far scarier picture overall.
You can catch Night of the Wild as part of the Syfy channel’s 31 Days of Halloween line up, airing this Saturday October 3, 9/8c.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Writer: Delonda Williams
Director: Eric Red
Stars: Rob Morrow, Kelly Rutherford, Tristin Mays, Jill Zarin
Studio/Production Co: Vox & Hound Productions
Length: 90 Minutes