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April 11, 2023

Spirit Animal Movie Review (2019)


I love being able to meet indie horror film makers at conventions. It’s usually because I’m set up next to or near them, and I end up staring at their DVDs and posters all weekend. My first Cinema Wasteland was no exception. I was set up across from Nekroshark Films and writer/director Madeline Deering. While the poster for another unfinished film got my attention, I was able to get my hands on a copy of this movie to review today.

Madeline was super cool to talk to and I really like the story idea for this flick. Is it perfect? No. Is it really good? Also no. But it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen and I enjoyed quite a few bits of it. Let’s break it down.

The basic premise of Spirit Animal is simple – a serial killer murders people while wearing different animal masks and using different kill methods that are dependent on the victim. The killer is guided by a sentient tree in the forest that wants to destroy humanity because we’re fucking up the planet.

Makes sense.

The film opens with a couple ads, very much like the Atomic Swans films I’ve recently reviewed. Are they real places? Fuck if I know but I’ll tell you this, after seeing the ad for Dingo Pizza, I really REALLY wanted to eat pizza.


Cut to a ‘bartender’ slinging beers and telling us, the viewer/customer, about this weird VHS tape he found by the dumpsters. He then proceeds to break down the two tasks we must do: 1. Play the smell-o-vision scratch card game when certain numbers pop up on screen (I, unfortunately, did not get one); and 2. Play the Spirit Animal drinking game. Every time a shark is on screen, take a drink. Every time you see the plushy shark, take two drinks. 

If I’d actually played along, I would have died of alcohol poisoning before the 2nd half of the film.

THEN we get to the actual movie, which is a twenty year flashback to a camp, a bunch of kids, and a counselor who’s making them figure out which spirit animal they are – or will be after they die.

Nothing like a little bit of heavy existentialism right before bed, eh kids?

The remainder of the film takes places in the present and a bunch of people are going out to the woods to camp, hang out, and have some fun. Unfortunately for them, the killer, Aarav Niktomi, is about to pee in everyone’s proverbial personal pools.


As you can imagine, indie horror is a bit rough. Very low production value, skilled actors are few or non-existent, lame writing/dialogue, sound and lighting unbalanced, and cinematography who? While there are weak aspects in this film as well, it’s actually much better than I expected.

For once, the sound was well balanced. The sound effects didn’t make my ears bleed while the dialogue belonged in your local library. Most of the special effects were practical. I’ll take those any day over crap CGI. There were some digital effects but not enough to irritate.

I really enjoyed the kills, for the most part. Like I said, the practical effects were fun and probably ‘death by pizza cutter’ was my favorite. But each character was killed in a different way. Tim, who always used plastic straws and littered the ground with them, had his brain sucked out through one by the killer wearing a shark mask while he screamed about how straws ruin the ocean.


While the acting is less than stellar, I really liked the character of Lisa. She was probably the most and best developed (she had a backstory with an abusive ex-boyfriend) and I think she was the only smart character of the bunch. Very sympathetic, likeable, and I wondered why she was friends with any of these fools.

I actually have several places in my notes where I typed out ‘haha’ in capital letters, just so I wouldn’t forget them. The humor does fall flat a lot but it hits the mark more often than not. Some basic silliness, sneaking in lines from other terrible films, but I probably laughed the most during the ending credits. Lots of little jokes and asides in there, especially what were obviously things said by the cast and crew about the director, Madeline.

And someone correct me if I’m wrong, but did Andrea sing the camping song from Sleepaway Camp 2 when she was drunk in front of the fire? I need a fact check!

I thought the story itself was very original. Allowed for a lot of creativity and humor while presenting real environmental horrors that happen every day. And while I don’t condone killing off humanity to save the planet, I do understand why it might seem like a viable option. Particularly to a sentient tree who bears the brunt of human’s destructive nature.

Now, with that said, there are a lot of faults in this flick, too.

Aside from Lisa, none of the characters matter. They’re either irritating or just…there. Even the killer couldn’t make me care about his cause, one-liners and quips not withstanding. I couldn’t be bothered when characters died. I just wanted them to shut the fuck up (except for the two chicks lost in the woods looking for a party – that actually cracked me up, though I remained untroubled at their deaths).

Would you like a taste of my banana?

The pacing dragged ass about halfway, which most films do. But while I understand hyperbolic humor, if there’s no action in a scene after about ten seconds, the viewer starts to tune out. Only Tom Hanks can pull off a peeing-for-thirty-seconds scene. And don’t get me started on the expo-dumps and ravings about how shitty humanity is. The killer’s mask-themed jokes were funny at first but by the third one, I just wanted it to end.

Postproduction sound is not good. The dialogue synching was mediocre at best and completely distracting; lighting is pretty bad for the night scenes; continuity lacked; some gaping plot holes. If this cleansing the world of humanity ritual can only happen every 1000 years, why did Aarav mention that it happened last time 20 years prior? Aarav says he’s not the only one (wanting the ritual) but we never circle back around to that idea. How does having a banana allergy make a victim of a banana attack melt into green goo?

Head scratching indeed.

So while this film isn’t really that great, as far as indie horror goes, I have to say I enjoyed it more than I thought possible. Maybe next time I’ll try the drinking game with a few friends and see if it’s any better. Perhaps at the next Cinema Wasteland…? I am excited to see if Bathtub Shark Attack, the movie poster that actually caught my attention, will screen at the fall CW show. I’d like to see what else Nekro Shark Films and Madeline Deering have to offer us in the future.


2.5 hatchets (out of 5)



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