Feral may share its title with several other recent films, but this one is a singular experience of one woman trying to stay warm while homeless beneath New York City.
Annapurna Sriram stars as Yazime, though she sometimes goes by Jasmine or even Jaz. Yazime is homeless in New York, and often lives in the abandoned subway tunnels below the city. Although she has a designated home within those tunnels, we mostly see her exploring around the piles of discarded things that surround her and venturing above ground for food and companionship.
While Yazmine is not emotionally or mentally capable of being fully immersed in whatever version of society she assumes is out there, she’s also classically antisocial. This is not to say that she’s shy or an introvert (psychologically, those are actually entirely different spectrums), but she takes some sort of joy in disrupting typical social behavior. She yells at perfect strangers for not giving her a cigarette. She steals from anyone who shows her kindness. She talks to young mothers about how terrible children are. As much as Yazmine goes on about how broken the system of life is, she’s also not actively participating in society as we know it.
As we witness her solitary time, we see that Yazmine is not without joy. While on one hand, she yearns to connect with people but just can’t, on the other she has stretches of truly enjoying her own company. She spends hours on end playing dress-up and taking on different characters while in her underground home. Though it would not be a stretch to see glimmers of mania in these exuberant performances, watching her escaping reality on her terms and enjoying the experience of just being silly for fun is satisfying.
Feral doesn’t have a plot, or even a story, but it’s driven as a character study of a complicated woman trying to somehow survive. As she moves from one scene to the next, she’s met with new challenges as if her experiences on screen are in conversation with the audience. She’s presenting evidence for why she acts how she does, as well as why she doesn’t seek help in the traditional, bureaucratic sense. Just as you may wonder how she eats or spends her time, a scene appears to answers your questions.
Sriram is extraordinary in her role as Yazmine and carries the film on her own. The cinematography and score do a good job of lifting the heavy material, but without the anchoring central performance, Feral could have failed under its own weight. Instead, she brings a good measure of humanity and humility to a character who’s difficult to relate to in many ways.
Feral asks you to spend it entire running time with Yazmine and offers little comfort and escapism in return. What it does give you is a unique perspective and insight into a complex woman in a difficult world.