(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Hyenas is a terrible movie that no one should bother with.
With that said, I’m left with the questions of “why” and “how”. How does a film this poorly made get released, and for what purpose? It’s rare that I will pan a movie completely, but Hyenas deserves just that. There are virtually no redeeming qualities about this too bad for TV movie. The direction is amateurish, the editing is sloppy, the CGI is laughable, the ending can be predicted from a mile away, and I’ve seen better acting in high schools.
Hyenas starts with two guys running a mother and her child off the road in the middle of the night. The two “men” then turn into hyenas, and eat the mother and her infant child. Turns out the father and husband of the two victims is Gannon, played by Saw III-VII star Costas Mandylor. In the meantime, Crazy Briggs (Meshach Taylor – Designing Women) breaks the fourth wall to tell the viewers that “the pack” is out there, and that they need to be killed. Briggs somehow tracks down Gannon and, through another monologue directed to the viewer, convinces him that these killer hyenas are the ones that destroyed Gannon’s life. Briggs and Gannon join forces to try and bring down the laughing hyenas.
As bad as that may sound, it’s only half the story. As all these direct audience addresses are happening, Jasper (Andrew James Allen), for some inexplicable reason, is trying to join a (poorly cast) Californian “gang”. Of course this gang of rich white kids is sparring with the blue-collar Mexicans of the city. Jasper’s sister, Gina (Christina Murphy), happens to be dating the Mexican gang leader, which causes problems between Jasper and Gina. As the movie progresses, these two gangs get into fights, and eventually a “final showdown” is arranged between the two gang leaders in order to tie the two otherwise unrelated stories together.
It feels as though writer and director Eric Weston had two separate movies in his head, realized that neither could be fleshed out well enough for full length films, and then mashed them together to create Hyenas. The result is a disjointed mess of a story that fails to capture the viewer’s attention, let alone his or her heart. I found myself checking the time constantly, hoping the movie would end and put me out of my misery. The 92-minute runtime feels more like 192-minutes because not one aspect of the film is engaging or intriguing. When the viewer doesn’t care about the characters, the story, or the kills in a horror film, what else is left? Nudity? Even that was airbrushed away, robbing even the flesh-hounds of any pleasure.
It is saying something when the best actor in your film is the token male character from Designing Women. This is the case with Hyenas, and Meshach Taylor steals the show, even though he is forced to act those awful monologues directly at the viewer. As one might expect from his work in the Saw series, Costas Mandylor plays one note the entire movie, and does nothing to raise my opinion of his acting talent. Not only is Gannon similar to Mark Hoffman (his Saw character), Mandylor looks identical, sporting the same suits and haircut. Mandylor has a decent grasp on this archetype, but fails to bring any depth to the character, which isn’t helped by the weak script. The worst actor in the bunch, though, has to be Amanda Aardsma playing Valerie. Every line she speaks is stilted and unemotional. I did not believe her performance for one second, and the casting choice screams “looks over talent”.
Even though this film takes place in California, some of the characters sport a southern dialect. Unfortunately the dialects are all over the map: one small character brings an Appalachian dialect, while the leader of the hyenas finds a poor Deep South dialect. There is no rhyme or reason for this, and it feels completely ridiculous to hear Californian characters with these miscellaneous dialects, and is nothing but distracting.
The editing by Eric Weston is equally as poor. There are continuity errors, large or small, in almost every scene, and cuts that muddy the movie’s flow. For example, at the end of the film, when the big fight is going down between the gang leaders – in which the white leader dons his best Old Navy-looking “Player of the Game” t-shirt – the scene shows them slapping each other one minute, then the next, they are crouched down behind a rock saying that they need to be friends. The transition between the fight and the friendship is non-existent, which is inexcusable since the entire film builds to their final countdown. If by some miracle the viewer is interested in the story of these characters, shoddy editing like this can take him or her out of it, and kill the story entirely.
Speaking of shoddy, the CGI effects reminded me of a terrible western I reviewed last year: The Gunslingers. This is never a good thing. The hyenas are almost entirely computer-generated images, and never look realistic. Even among the bad, there are moments in the movie, especially towards the end, that stand out as exceptionally bad. The final fight between the two feuding hyenas literally had me laughing out loud because it was done so poorly.
As a film critic, I don’t enjoy panning other’s hard work. In instances like Hyena, it is necessary to keep potential audiences from wasting their time and money on such a sad excuse for a movie. This isn’t a B-movie that is fun to sit through with lot of alcohol; it doesn’t even reach that lowly plateau. If that is what one is looking for, turn to Husk, Prowl, or Mandrake instead (all B-movies that are better than this stinker). Any fans of decent cinema should avoid Hyenas like the plague.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.