A FERAL WORLD * USA 2020 Dir: David Liban. 104 mins
A genre is comprised of a series of situations, characters and variations thereof. One of the unfortunate worlds many seem to work in now is the post-apocalyptic world. This is not new: it is a metaphor for wiping the slate clean and imposing what the writers, film makers and actors want to say. A FERAL WORLD (2020) is a small story of aging and family ties set against the destruction of known society.
The picture was written by David Liban, who is a Professor of film studies at the University of Denver from a short film that he liked working on. He financed a feature length version out of his own pocket that starred his son Caleb Liban. The inspiration was Richard Linklater’s film, BOYHOOD (2014) that follows characters over twelve years. A FERAL WORLD (2020) was shot over four summers, showing the actors ageing and growing. Fascinating process that should yield some subtle moments against a new setting of a destroyed world. The result is a film in love with a process; forgetting that it is a film to entertain.
The starts of the film are the actors, not the setting. One gets the CGI effects, etc. to keep those that like them interested. If you are going to feature humans then you better have something to say. The story focuses on Sonny, (Caleb Liban) an orphaned boy who meets up with a woman named Emma (played by Danielle Prall). Sonny, Emma, and her dog Lips form a bond, and they travel together in search of Emma’s lost daughter. Smacking of elements of a better film large studio effort THE POSTMAN (1997), it is a small story of their adventures as they age. The point is you don’t really care.
A FERAL WORLD (2020) has garnered awards on the festival circuit, mostly for directing and the acting of newcomer Vivienne Bersin. As the film’s saving grace, Bersin is appearing in some major films which could lead to better things.
The films looks pretty in places with the usual dirt and forest moments that get pulled down by a sanctimonious story.
More importantly – and this is the tragic part – of A FERAL WORLD (2020), is a vanity project by the well-heeled as this quote from Denver News implies:
“I’d like to make sure that people understand it’s a labor of love.” That is especially true, because Liban worked with his son at a pivotal time in his life: Caleb was 11 – 14 years old during filming. “I’m really proud I did this with my son; when he grows up, he can say this is something I did with my dad,” Liban said.
Do we really need to have a family film projected on a screen for all to see? Resounding No! If the director had the courage to get actual performances out of the actors then he should have given this project to another director. Working with your family is safe. You never explore as deep as you can because your Dad is watching you. There is no stretch or challenge. Keep your “home movies” to yourself.
Review by Terry Sherwood