Blood. Sex. Demons. Director / writer Christopher Di Nunzio mixes these ingredients together and cooks up a curious blend of gangster film and supernatural horror in his first feature-length film, Livestock. If you are a horror fan with a healthy appetite for blood and gore, you just might enjoy Di Nunzio’s effort.
It’s chicks’ night out for friends Annabel (Johanna Gorton), Kristen (Stephanie Spry), and Tina (Christina C. Crawford). They gather at Annabel’s apartment to commiserate over alcohol and popcorn. Annabel is having man troubles — she just broke up with her jerk of a boyfriend. Tina, on the other hand, doesn’t have any problems on that front. No, her problems are career related — she’s disillusioned with her new job in politics. Tina suggests a road trip to cheer them up. Unfortunately, the girls never take that trip. Instead, Johanna and Tina each inadvertently take their own separate journeys straight into the heart of darkness and evil.
For underneath the thin veneer of civilized society exists a demonic cult of bloodsuckers and organ noshers for whom cannibalism and sex are but two sides of the same coin — destruction and procreation.
Victor (Fiore Leo), a member of this cult, has just been promoted by Edgar (Robert Hines) to a prestigious position within the family. Handsome and smartly dressed, he looks more like a wise guy than a blood thirsty demon. Only he ain’t working for the Mafia. Victor has been charged by his superiors to prepare the cult’s annual feast. He is aided by his trio of rebellious underlings, lead by the inept Anthony (Michael Reardon), who defies his dictate to confine their victims to hookers and bums. Instead, Anthony and his cohorts Natalia (Irina Peligrad) and Bella (Aurora Grabill) forage among the “normal people.” They nab Annabel and her date Jerry (Matt Phillion) as the two walk through the park.
Di Nunzio takes a straightforward, no-frills approach in directing and managing all the elements of his disturbing yet interesting film, a decision no doubt influenced in part by budget restrictions. The gory special effects are surprisingly — and disgustingly — realistic, not hokey or contrived. And the film score comprised of piano work, percussion, and electronic music lends a chilling air.
Unfortunately, though, Livestock is a good idea poorly executed. The most fundamental problem rests with the script (co-written by Di Nunzio and Melanie Kotoch). Just who or what are the cult members? First referred to in the film as “the family”, later “the pack”, and finally as the “Order of Eleven Wolves”, one would surmise that the group is indeed a pack of wolves. But nothing else in the film, beyond those descriptors, supports that idea. The members behave more like vampires and cannibals than they do wolves. The bottom line is the pack isn’t clearly defined in the script. Nor are the characters well drawn or interesting or likable. Only one character Annabel struck me as genuine.
Livestock also suffers from the mostly poor caliber of the performances. Most of them, including much of the dialog, are amateurish and non-specific; in particular Reardon who comes off as whiney and petulant instead of menacing. Delivering the strongest performances is Gorton as Annabel and Leighsa Burgin in a brief role as a hooker.
Di Nunzio makes a point at the outset of establishing a connection between the Hindu goddess Kali and the pack. But the director doesn’t explore the duality of the goddess, whose worship is the driving force behind the cult’s diabolical activities. We get the sex / destruction dynamic, but we never see the sex / creation dynamic. The sex present in the film is simply the satisfaction of perverted lust; it’s an empty gesture, wasted body fluid. It doesn’t speak to Kali’s procreative force that represents the ying to the yang of her destructive power.
Most problematic is the film’s utter lack of tension and suspense. Although I was genuinely invested and engaged in the story and curious to see how it would play out, the story didn’t build in intensity as it moved toward its dramatic conclusion. The irony of Tina’s innocent involvement — which is revealed at the end — should register as a big “wow” to the audience but has no impact because her part in the entire scheme of things isn’t developed and woven into the plot meaningfully. The result is the big payoff reads as a big let down.
Regrettably, Di Nunzio’s Livestock falters more often than it succeeds. It’s a shame because within Di Nunzio’s and Kotoch’s script lies the potential for an intriguing horror film.