“Feral” is a film by Emmy Award winning director Andrew Wonder and co-written by Andrew Wonder, Jason Mendez, and Priscilla Kavanaugh. It stars Annapurna Sriram, Sonia Mena, Bene Coopersmith, Kevin Hoffman, and Aurora Flores. The synopsis reads, “At once an examination of loneliness and the masks we wear to face the world, Andrew Wonder’s FERAL tells the story of Yazmine, a young woman living in the tunnels underneath Manhattan, struggling to overcome her past as she meets other city dwellers fending for their own lives.” It was shot on location in NY both above and below ground.
This is a very dramatic, emotional piece, with very stark cinematography between the underground and aboveground, making them characters unto themselves. It’s such a stark contrast that it is mirrored in Yaz herself. She puts on different personas based on where she is, her underground life is one of a scavenger, ironically more free and more authentically herself. She’s not putting on a mask around anyone. Her personal guard goes down because she’s alone. She wanders, looking at what others have left behind, others like herself, and pieces of life from above that happened to fall from above. She collects these items and gives them personal meaning. I loved the scenes of her playing dress-up, and making up characters. It’s like she was trying on masks before heading up above.
As she’s about to go above ground, she has a sink shower, changes up her hair, and does her absolute best at trying not to signal to anyone that she’s homeless. She tries to be read as just another woman going about her business. She’s a woman of many faces, a different person for each one she interacts with. She’s a survivor with very strongly held personal beliefs mostly connected to her personal trauma. She lives by her own moral code and seems to genuinely be interested in other people even when she plans to steal from them.
She uses everything at her disposal to keep going, even if it hurts someone else, sometimes you need to when there’s no help for you. It’s a very lonely existence. This film is truly an amazing character drama, inspired by the stories of people that have been homeless. There’s no monsters except the worst kind, the real kind, humans.
Yazmine’s attempts to look like a person who isn’t homeless is to combat invisibility. When you’re homeless no one wants to look at you. They don’t want to look in your eyes and see you as a person. It’s so much easier to keep on walking and stare at the ground otherwise they’d feel guilt for not being able to help. You’re regularly dehumanized, and rarely even seen as one.
The religious organizations I went to when I was starving that said they had food wouldn’t even let you eat until they did a bible class with you. They’d use you to make themselves feel better, not to help you. Shelters are no better, your stuff gets stolen, and it’s not safe for LGBTQIA+ people, even more so if you’re a woman. There’s no social floor to fall back on. Society has decided that you are less than, so that’s what you are. You’re trash. Living trash, but still trash nonetheless.
Over the past decade I’ve been homeless off and on. I understand and really feel for Yazmine. It’s such a hard life and very traumatic. There’s so many things that people take for granted that you usually wouldn’t think about unless it has happened to you. This film is such a realistic depiction of homelessness that I was only able to watch it in segments. It hit so close to home. There’s a character that Yazmine meets who is an older woman named Aurora that treats her like a daughter, and I had to pause and just cry.
When you’re homeless, you just want someone to help you, and take care of you for once. Bring you in, give you something warm to eat, and a warm place to sleep. Then they betray you. I experienced that too many times to count. You think you’re safe, finally, just for a little bit and you’re stabbed in the back. You start to close yourself off and become more feral.
There’s a scene which deals with having no identification. Sometimes you lose your documents and have to fight just to prove that you’re you, which in turn affects your ability to do so many things! Think about how often you show your ID each month. It’s way more than you’re thinking. I’ve had a home for a year, and I’m STILL working on getting my ID renewed. Acquiring all the necessary documentation to prove that I am myself is a process akin to screaming into the void, it rarely works, but once in awhile something in that void hears you and you get a morsel of what you need but not fully. So you keep on screaming.
One thing that I was very glad the film brought up but wish had gone into more detail was, what do you think happens when a woman has her period while homeless? It’s not like you can go out to buy some pads or tampons. If you had any money, it’s gonna be going towards food. Sometimes organizations that help the homeless will have period supplies, but it’s not often, and often there’s not enough. There are times where you just need to go to a public bathroom and shove a bunch of TP in your pants and hope that’s gonna be enough.
Why are the only options for a homeless person the cops, social workers that don’t have the necessary resources to help, or a church that forces their beliefs on you, taking advantage of the most vulnerable people? The line, “Every time there’s a helping hand, there’s a razor blade in it,” resonated so deeply within me it was scary. I never thought about it that way before but that’s exactly how it felt.
I’ve never seen anything so accurately portray this subject matter. So much research and care was put into this film, and it shows. It shines through the darkness of the subject matter. It’s a confluence of fantastic acting, a powerful story, strong writing, a beautiful score, and strong visual language which tell the story of so much without the character saying a word. I really look forward to see what comes next from this director, cast, and crew. Any praise they receive is well deserved.
The film was screened out of the Sarasota Film Festival.