Andrew Wonder’s Feral premiers tonight at the Sarasota Film Festival. Starring Annapuram Sriram as Yasmine, Feral follows a young homeless woman (Yasmine) as she navigates the literal underground of Manhattan and deals with various people on the surface. This is not to be confused with at least two other films called Feral that have come out in the last couple of years, which were genre films. This Feral is no horror film, but will likely have a wide crossover appeal.
Wonder creates an intimate character study in a nouvelle vague style, meaning there’s really not much of a plot to speak of, rather it is a film about the human condition. The fact that a blizzard is bearing down on the city which will certainly kill anyone living on the street is more of a secondary engine driving the story. The real heart is carried by Sriram’s moving portrayal of Yasmine.Yasmine drifts in and out of Manhattan’s labyrinth-like tunnel systems, the same way she drifts in and out of people’s lives. She carefully navigates the darkness, finds the things she needs and moves on like a ghost.
Sriram gives an amazing, empathic, and heartfelt performance. She’s a hustler, but years on the street, taking risks to survive, and having her mother ripped away from her at 16 by immigration have broken her mind, if not her spirit. There are times when she almost channels a Travis Bickle-esque PTSD stricken loneliness. The only time the camera isn’t on her are in a few flashes of talking heads-fellow homeless women, telling their stories to a camera.Wonder creates a tight intimacy with Yasmine and we care about her right away, even when she’s making decisions that piss us off, like robbing a well meaning dude who tries to take her in. But we can forgive her any transgression, because she can’t trust the world. One minute she’s a kid, the next she’s an orphan. One minute she’s finding a pack of unopened dinner rolls in the trash, the next she’s getting beaten by three drunk college guys. Yasmine has learned to bob and weave through life like a seasoned boxer.
Feral is a dark film. This isn’t Oscar bait that’s going to make the sun shine right on your own little heart, but Wonder wisely knows when to cut back. He preserves an even pace in Yasmine’s story and when it gets harrowing he has enough control to keep it from devolving into misery porn. At a mere 73 minutes, Wonder and company pack a ton of heart into Feral with deeply personal portrayals of the little vignettes of life in a cold, cold city.