Silly survival movie with little to recommend
MJ. Basset, the director of Endangered Species was previously responsible for dark fantasy Solomon Kane and the British horror movie Wilderness, two movies that were perfectly competent and largely enjoyable to watch. As such, my expectations were reasonably high for Basset’s latest feature which is set in Kenya and details the plight of a family who are forced to work together when they are stranded in a vast safari park.
Unfortunately, despite the promise of a decent survival story featuring rhinos, hyenas, and other African beasts, the movie quickly underwhelmed due to the lame script, dodgy acting, and lack of any real tension.
Still, the movie isn’t all bad. It was shot on location at a real National Park in Kenya and this gives Endangered Species some level of authenticity. The wide, sweeping vistas of the African plains are quite beautiful to look at and the director can be commended for the camerawork that gives us both a birds-eye view and up close and personal look of the landscape that the unfortunate family are forced to wander around in as they battle to stay alive.
The CGI animals are quite well realised too, although there are a couple of scenes that don’t ring true because the actors are clearly acting with something they can’t really see. It is something of a surprise that the director chose to use special effects for these shots, however, as the movie is located in a place where real animals were likely wandering around.
Of course, it would have been wrong of Basset to put her actors in peril, so I can partly understand why they weren’t forced to act with real hyenas, leopards, etc. The infamous 1981 movie Roar highlighted the very real danger of filming scenes with actors and potentially hostile animals, as several people were badly injured on the set of that nightmare of a film.
As Endangered Species has a wildlife protection message at its core, this is perhaps another reason why real animals weren’t forced to make an appearance. Still, a few scenes featuring actual African wildlife wouldn’t have gone amiss, even if they were filmed from a great distance.
The lack of real animals isn’t this movie’s only problem, as I suggested at the beginning. One of the biggest issues here is the quality of the script. Far too much time is spent on the in-fighting between the family members when there should have been more scenes of them interacting with the beasts of the Kenyan backdrop. This saps much of the tension from the already thin story and turns the movie into a frustrating rather than exciting watch.
Some of the plot points are very silly too. At one point, a character gets savaged by a leopard and is dragged away up a tree. Miraculously, this person survives the attack and is able to walk away with barely a limp or a stumble after escaping from the animal’s clutches. Then there’s the moment when the dad lets his son Noah drive the van around the park, even though the teen has very little driving experience and there are potential dangers at every turn. Such moments are far from realistic and the movie becomes ever more laughable as it trundles along to the end.
The script is bad but the weaknesses within it could have been salvaged if the acting was better. Not every actor turns in a bad performance but there are a couple of performers who mishandle nearly every line they are given. I’m not going to name names here as that would be slightly unfair but it won’t take you long to realise which actors can rise above the awful dialogue and which actors can’t.
It’s disappointing that this movie is bad as Basset has some interesting points to make within the clumsy narrative. Not only is this a survival thriller but it’s an anti-poaching movie too and she stresses the evils of poaching within the story and at the coda that appears at the end of the film.
The characters also talk about their environmental responsibility, such as the moment when Zoe, the daughter, tells her father off for bringing plastic bottles of water on the trip rather than the glass alternatives. Unfortunately, this moment is undermined somewhat when they later regret leaving the plastic bottles behind when the glass bottles that Zoe has brought along break when their van is tipped over by a rhino.
There are some excellent man vs nature movies out there, including The Day Of The Animals and The Naked Prey, and the upcoming Idris Elba movie Beast about a family being hunted by a rogue lion, looks good too. In comparison, Endangered Species is pretty dire, so it can’t be recommended if you’re looking for a survival thriller or something with a decent plot to match the movie’s ecological messages.
In the end, this is a flimsy family drama masquerading as an adventure pic with characters that you are unlikely to root for. Chances are, you might secretly wish that some of them will get eaten before the closing credits start to roll. This is a rather grim thing to say, I know, but when you are forced to hear the characters drone on for over 90 minutes, any escape from their intolerable dialogue and hammy acting would be a mercy.
Read More: Endangered Species Ending Explained
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Verdict - 4/10