There are dramatic moments, stretches of action and snatches of pithy dialogue that suggest there’s a half-decent thriller inside the ungainly, frustrating mess of “Among the Beasts.” But it goes wrong, right from the start, in an unnecessary, uninteresting story set-up that eats up a whopping 40 minutes of screen time.
It’s a movie about child trafficking, about an ex-Marine and a mob daughter tracking down the traffickers, off the books and beyond the reach of the cops.
But we don’t even meet the mob daughter — played by Libe Barer — until we hit the film’s halfway mark, which tells you all you need to know about the need for editing in the SCREENWRITING stage, and how NOT to give your thriller even the most remote sense of urgency.
We’re shown a little girl and a man (Tory Kittles) at the veterinarian’s office. Their relationship isn’t clear, but there’s an asthmatic pug involved, so there’s that.
It turns out the 40something guy, who goes by “Paul,” but whom a lot of people call “LT,” helps run a mixed martial arts gym. It turns out he’s pretty tough, very handy with his fists. And he’s coldblooded in his threats.
“You’re making a mistake,” he growls to one fool who tests him. “You. All by yourself.”
Another mug hears “Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done,” and does exactly that.
When the little girl he was with at the veterinary clinic is snatched, the viewer must figure out the relationship Paul had with her, her family and the like. The clues to that are stupidly slow in coming.
“LT” stands for “Lieutenant.” Lt. Paul is connected to little Kayla’s family because he served with her late father. Her mother’s a mess, so Kayla’s teenaged sister is the one who slaps him and gives him his orders when someone abducts Kayla.
“I’m just asking you to do what you always do. Bring. Her. Home.”
LT asks around, calls in cop favors and tosses the bar facing the sidewalk where the 12 year-old was abducted. No dice. A year later, he’s crawled into a bottle and up his own nose out of guilt.
That’s when the mob daughter Lola shows up with a story of a missing cousin, and a grudging “No cops, for obvious reasons” partnership forms.
Every single relationship is teased-out, every “introduction” wanders into indulgent screenwriting filler. EVERYthing I’ve just mentioned could have been handled in a line or two of dialogue, a short flashback or two and the like. It’s all background and back-story.
In one interminable scene, LT sits in a bar, supposedly after going cold turkey, and we listen to ancient Vietnam Vets blather on and on and blame their war on the same people Pentagon apologists have always blamed it on.
We also go to an AA meeting for a scene that serves a lot less purpose than the writer-director imagined.
There’s “establishing” who the characters are and what the stakes will be in quick sketches, and then there’s not knowing when enough is enough. Writer-director Matthew Newton never got that memo.
Even the finale, when the hunters have crossed several moral and legal lines to get close to their goal, is drawn-out and so slow-footed you may find yourself shouting at the screen “Get ON with it” at a rescue effort that proceeds at a crawl.
And by the way, if you’ve seen more than two or three child abduction conspiracy tales, you will guess, as I did, who is behind it all in the endless first act. “Among the Beasts” is that obvious.
Rating: unrated, child trafficking, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Tory Kittles, Libe Barer, Sarunas J. Jackson
Credits: Scripted and directed by Matthew Newton. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:39