Finding stories of people living on the fringes on NYC isn’t a difficult feat in such an overcrowded and diverse city. But when the subject happens to spend most of their time underground, their lifestyle might become a little more difficult to grasp.
Drifting through the subway tunnels like a chameleonic shapeshifter, 20-something Yazmine (Annapurna Sriram) calls these forgotten tunnels home. From a description such as this it would not be crazy to believe this is the beginning of a subterranean horror movie. But no, Yazmine is a shapeshifter in the sense that she is a collector, claiming objects and naming them as her own, other peoples belongings and memories that she can shape to her desired use for any occasion. From her collection of wigs, stolen clothing, fancy dress store makeup and craft store stickers she concocts identities to suit the event for which she dares to travel above ground.
In her underground home she acts out characters as if in theatre, surprisingly, much of the film feels lit like theatre, with single lights carving out her silhouette against the darkness, encompassing you within her world. Director/cinematographer Andrew Wonder’s camera feels intimate, constantly closing in on her reactions and her chosen persona for the day. Some days she is fur coat clad seductress trying to bum a cigarette, other days she’s trading in records, going home with strangers – certain days appearing as more her authentic self than others.
That Yaz has had a troubled past is clear, she talks of having no parents, of her trauma and her interactions with those other lost souls she meets on the street begin to unravel her dark past. One of the film’s most touching moments is when she is taken in for the night by an older lady who reminisces about her younger days in Latin clubs, and dances with Yaz in her living room; probably the first time Yaz has known any kind of home comforts in a long time.
These documentary-like vignettes lend themselves well to Sriram’s astoundingly natural performance as she moves through the streets finding meaning and a way to heal. Undoubtedly an abandoned soul with no one to look out for her, the wild and free spaces she inhabits reflect her loneliness. It would be hard at times to render the film in any way charming given how bleak it sometimes feels, the struggles of a homeless NYC woman at mercy of the elements and violent individuals leaves little space for inspiration, but Sriram approaches this world with a wide-eyed meekness that is impossible to not it find enrapturing in a strange sense of childlike wonder that Yaz inhabits in this unforgiving environment.
With its staggeringly beautiful cinematography of down-and-dirty New York and a layered central performance, Adam Wonder’s debut feature is a complex and dynamic look at social outliers and how we find the means to survive. When Yaz finds objects on the side of the street that have also been tossed aside like her, she enriches them with a new life and meaning, and ultimately, Yaz needs to find that meaning within her own life too.
Feral screened at North Bend Film Fest on August 17th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here