Horror tends to be scarier when the threat is less defined, as that formless dread with too many possibilities is frightening to the mind. And Shanti Gudgeon’s screenplay for Carnifex burns oh so slowly, which in turn sets one’s nerves on fire. The first slight peek at what this boogie looks like doesn’t happen until almost an hour in. Even then, we don’t get a clear full gander at the ravager until about 15 minutes before the finish line.
Lahiff’s instincts here are splendid, as the audience doesn’t have a pre-conceived image of what this unknown predator could even look like. Once we look at it in its snarling face, it is one nasty beastie. Special thanks to an ace special effects department, especially since their work is enhanced by creative lighting decisions that make it all look face-rippingly real.
“…well worth tracking down unless it finds you first and eats you up.”
The writing sustains the momentum during the periods of no slaughter. The level of immersion in these characters working in nature is remarkable, especially with the help of the sumptuous cinematography by Kieran Fowler. The dialogue is peppered with enough professional details to make you feel like an insider to the rare species scene. It never gets preachy, though, even for what is correctly billed as an ecological horror movie. Everything pertinent to the immediate peril is woven into the story’s skeleton. Instead of lectures, we get to see what the people who keep track of such things are finding while doing their jobs.
The elements that relate to climate change are a matter of what it is instead of what it should be. Instead of endless dialogue about the wildfires that destroyed animals’ habitats, we only deal with the aftermath. For instance, the forcing of undiscovered prehistoric flesh eaters to move their hunting grounds closer to where people live. The climax is highly unusual, something you have never seen before in a monster movie. This will surprise all and confound many, but that is due to it not being telegraphed ahead of time. It makes perfect sense upon reflection if you just keep the extinction themes in mind. Carnifex is the best ecological monster picture since The Prophecy and is well worth tracking down unless it finds you first and eats you up.
Carnifex screed at the 2023 Cinequest Film Festival.