Technical aspects: C
Andrew James Allen
Particular trigger warnings: Mexican racial slurs
Passes the Bechdel test? Yes, but barely.
If you are hoping for a horror film that brings mostly unintentional comedy, this could be the choice for you. Because this was bad, but mostly silly-bad, with much of the camp probably deliberate.
Hyenas has several plot threads going, none of them especially compelling. First we have the story of Gannon (Costas Mandylor), a man whose wife and infant child were killed by a breed of “were-hyenas” brought to North America by slave traders. He’s initially unbelieving when it comes to the existence of these werehyenas, but a man named “Crazy Briggs” (Meshach Taylor), a hunter of these creatures, convinces him. Crazy Briggs takes Gannon on as something of an apprentice hunter.
Then suddenly that part of the movie just kind of… ends for a while, and we’re taken to an apparent gang war in the local small town between the obnoxious white kids and the Hispanic kids. Bobby (Derrick Kosinski) leads the white kids against Marco (Joshua Alba), the leader of the Hispanic kids. Complicating things, Bobby is hazing/recruiting Jasper (Andrew James Allen), whose older sister Gina (Christina Murphy) is dating Marco. Drama!
Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the leader of the matriarchal hyena clan is dying, and so the disparate packs are meeting in the mines outside the town to pick a new leader. Wilda (Christa Campbell) seems poised to take over.
Back with Gannon, they rescue a girl from some of the hyenas, leading to an incredibly contrived plot twist that I doubt anyone was fooled by if they were paying any attention.
Eventually the plots converge somewhat by coincidence, as Gannon and Crazy Briggs head to the caves to kill Wilda and the rest, while Bobby and Marco go there to fight out their issues, and Gina follows them in order to stop them.
[Spoilers] There’s a silly action-y ending, that again I doubt will come as much of a surprise to anyone: Bobby and Marco are suddenly friends, most of the good guys escape (minus a dramatic self-sacrifice,) and most of the bad guys get blown up. [End spoilers.]
This movie is just so damn silly. It’s often entertainingly so, but much of the badness also comes just from sloppy writing and inconsistencies. I joked that when it cut to a scene about the white kids/Mexican kids’ rivalry that they’d never be referred to again and that they would have nothing to do with the rest of the film… and I wasn’t really that far off. Most of the movie seems to be about the struggle Gina has with her brother being drafted into the white kids’ gang, and yet that’s ultimately inconsequential to the rest of the film and the hyena plot. It causes some additional tension between Bobby and Marco, but it was established that they hated each other whether Jasper and Gina were in the picture or not. Eventually, despite taking up a whole lot of screen time in the first half, Jasper’s character is pretty much dropped from the movie and has nothing to do with the resolution. I kept expecting the douchey white kid gang to have something to do with the hyenas, but there was no connection between the pack and either gang; the storylines only cross by coincidence when the characters wind up in the same place, rendering the “dramatic” gang plotline absolutely unnecessary.
There are a lot of times where it seems like there were a few scenes missing or something, where there are unexplained character changes or passages of time. For instance, it seems that Gannon and Crazy Briggs are the only two people to know about the were-hyenas, but then at one point Gannon is getting a report from another hunter that was never mentioned or introduced. At another point there’s a brief bit of narration by Briggs that tells us how he started training Gannon (rather than showing us any of said training) but it’s unclear how much time has passed. We later find out that it was three years since Gannon’s family was killed, but nothing in the narration made it clear that we’d skipped so far ahead until he mentions it. Toward the very end, [spoilers,] Bobby and Marco are ready to kill each other, and yet thirty seconds later they decide they’re BFFs. Granted they were faced with a cave full of werehyenas, but it goes beyond temporary truce and into the unrealistic “now we’ve overcome our differences!” resolution. [End spoilers.]
The effects are laughable mixes of bad costuming and bad CG hyenas. The “transformations” prompted snorts and giggles. Of course, your experience may be helped or hindered by the fact that Wilda has to take off her clothes every time she’s going to transform (a trait not apparently shared by any of the not-as-hot-as-Christa Campbell-werehyenas.) The nudity is still relatively lacking (nipple-less boobs!) but hey, it’s there should that be a draw for you. (Though would people find her as hot if she, like real female hyenas, had basically a pseudo penis? Just wondering. Maybe she does; we don’t see it.)
If you’re a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, you may recognize most of the mythology about the hyenas as being very similar to what was mentioned in the episode “The Pack” from the first season, where Xander and some other kids were possessed by hyena spirits. And honestly, I think I’d rather watch that episode a few more times than this movie. Still, the film is entertaining and campy and easy to laugh at.