It was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime.
The Halseys could afford it, of course, this trip to sub-Sarahan Africa to see its glorious wildlife. They were taking their last real vacation as a family, before 18-year-old Zoe goes off to college. (Or maybe goes to work at a vegan coffee shop; hard to tell with Zoe.) The five of them—father Jack, mother Lauren, son Noah, Zoe and Zoe’s beau, Billy—were going to bring home memories they’d never forget.
Only Jack knows they can’t really afford it—not since that “accident” at work. One little oil spill, and all of a sudden oilman Jack is on unpaid administrative leave. Jack doesn’t think he’ll be fired—but he watches the vacation meter run as the fam makes its way to their plush resort. And he sure can’t afford a fancy-shmancy formal safari add-on.
The family isn’t exactly a big happy one, either. Zoe calls Jack “Jack” these days, or cruder words, and she only has eyes for Billy. (Well, Billy and the drugs they both use.) Noah still loves his dad, but the father drives his talented son hard; and he struggles to accept Noah’s boyfriend, Sam.
But that won’t stop the Halseys from making this a trip to remember! No sirree. Why, several questionable decisions will ensure this trip becomes a truly unforgettable experience.
For instance: Jack decides to forgo the formal safari (which, you’ll recall, he can’t afford) to lead a trek into the African wilderness of his own, by gum. Who’s to stop them from driving into the wildlife park with their very own rented van?
Zoe also insists they bring glass bottles of water, rather than the plastic ones, because glass bottles are just so much more eco-friendly. (Never mind that they tend to shatter under duress.) And when a park official tries to register the van at the entrance, Jack—a little stressed, what with one thing or another—guns the van right on through. They don’t need to let anyone know where they are, right?
Given all that, the “No Entry” sign they see marking a side road is practically an engraved invitation to the Halsey family. “Your mom wants to see a rhino,” he declares. “I’m going to find a rhino.”
And, in fact, they do. As a matter of fact, they find two—a mama and a baby. And Noah—who decided now would be a fantastic time to practice driving a stick shift—drives right in between them.
Oh, yes. It’s the beginning of a grand adventure, to be sure—one they’ll remember for the rest of their potentially much-shortened lives.
Yes, some quite bad things are in store for the Halsey family. But all these bad things lead to a measure of reconciliation and even redemption. And most of that is centered on Jack.
Jack’s got some patching up to do with all the members of his family, but his relationship with Zoe is particularly fractured in the beginning. Turns out, Jack is Lauren’s second husband; the first died when Zoe was just a baby. Now Zoe wants nothing to do with stepfather, Jack (even though he’s the only dad she even remembers); she uses his first name to emphasize her antipathy, but she sometimes makes it even more explicit. “You’re not my dad!” she screams more than once (sometimes lobbing a profanity in for good measure.) But Jack begins to push back on that narrative in the most loving way he can. “I am your dad,” he says, “and I have been for 16 years. And that’s not going to change because you’re p–sed off at me.”
Minus the profanity, it’s an illustration of Jack’s growth as both a father and a person in Endangered Species. As the family’s predicament grows increasingly dire, he sheds his arrogance and finds a new level of humility.
Jack’s deeply concerned with leading his family throughout their unfolding misadventure; but early on, that “leadership” looks more like a desire to control or even to bully—leading for his sake, not his family’s. In the end, Jack pivots into a more sacrificial leadership stance, one predicated on servanthood. And while Jack’s character growth comes with some caveats, he nonetheless develops a better sense of what it means to be both a good person and a good father by movie’s end.
After nearly getting killed by a leopard, Billy (Zoe’s boyfriend) staggers through the wilderness and finds the family’s overturned van and, he assumes, safety. “Oh, thank you, divine goddess!” he shouts. “Also, f— you for doing this to me!”
When the Halseys reach their African resort, Lauren turns to Jack and says, “Heaven, Jack. I’ve landed in heaven. Thank you.” There’s a reference to worshipping a vegan coffee shop.
Zoe and Billy kiss and cuddle, and they’re clearly very much a couple. They have to share a room with Noah, though—and the room contains three single beds.
Noah has a boyfriend back home named Sam, which is a problem for Jack (though he pretends it’s not). He worries about the relationship not so much from a moral standpoint, but because it doesn’t fit with Noah’s athletic prowess and worries that his sexual inclinations could get him bullied in college.
Jack scolds his son for skipping practices for “doctor’s appointments,” which Jack believes are actually excuses for Noah to spend time with Sam. (Noah suggests that if he was excusing himself to hang out with a girl, Jack would feel differently.) Jack eventually accepts his won’s sexual preferences completely by the end. “Noah, I just wanted you to be happy, bud,” he says. “You are who you are. I’m so proud of you.”
Jack strips off his shirt in preparation to take a shower. Lauren’s top can sometimes display a teensy bit of cleavage.
Remember the mama rhino? Well, she does plenty more than give the Halseys a disapproving look for coming between her and her baby. She charges the van from the front, then wheels around and tackles it from the side. The rhino’s horn rips straight through the metal door and into Jack’s leg (much blood is shown); and she pushes the van over, causing a few other injuries to the family. (Zoe’s shoulder is dislocated by the collision; Lauren, a former doctor, painfully pops it back into place.)
It’s not the only close encounter the family has with wildlife. Billy gets mauled by a leopard and pulled up to hang on a tree branch, left for dead. While Billy survives, he’s a mass of bloody wound. When he pushes himself out of the tree, he knocks himself unconscious for a bit. Hyenas are a constant threat, and a pack closes in on someone before the scene ends.
Lauren is diabetic, and she gives herself a shot on her abdomen (which makes her wince a bit). She brings some medication along during the family safari, but alas, it’s shattered during the collision with the rhino. Her family knows that apart from getting back to civilization, Lauren will slip into a coma and die.
Jack’s rhino wound, along with a couple of others that he suffers, are sadistically poked and pressed by a not-very-nice man. Someone is shot several times. A vehicle smashes into a fallen tree: One of the occupants dies in the crash, while another one suffers some debilitating injuries (including a broken arm).
We hear about an anti-poaching crew that often summarily executes poachers. A poached rhino—missing a horn and much of its face—lies in the African scrub as flies buzz around the animal’s corpse. Another dead animal hangs from a tree branch. People threaten other people.
We hear nearly 40 f-words and another 30 s-words as the story moves along. Other profanities heard galloping across the savannah include: “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—,” “d–k” and “p-ssed.” God’s name is misused more than 20 times, once with the word “d—n.” Jesus’ name is abused three times.
Billy is excited to discover a salvia plant (“also known as Aunt Sally,” he explains to Noah); he and Zoe chew on some leaves, hoping to get “high as f—“. They succeed in achieving said high, and they dance about the resort in a state of chemically triggered bliss.
While on safari, a scornful Noah tells Billy that he smokes too much marijuana. “And you don’t smoke enough,” Billy tells Noah. A couple of characters drink alcoholic beverages during dinner.
A couple of people vomit. Zoe is wildly disrespectful to her father. Jack complains about his own body odor before hopping in a shower. We hear about how “old white men in suits” are destroying the planet.
Endangered Species is about a family running from both animals and people who want to kill them. But it’s also about the environment—an unmistakable eco-message that plumbs some of the inherent complexities that come with that issue. Those glass bottles filled with water serve as a bit of precursor to the movie’s eco-nuances. Yes, glass water bottles are far more eco-friendly … but that’s hardly a comfort when they’re all smashed after an angry rhino rams the van.
Poachers eventually enter the story, and yeah, they are bad people—willing to kill not just animals for their horns, but people for their tongues (that is, to prevent said tongues from wagging). But the poaching leader argues that these hunters can feed their families for a year with the proceeds from one rhino horn. And when he learns that Jack’s an oil man, he argues that his group of poachers are “nothing compared to you,” calling Jack and his ilk “planet killers.”
Billy would agree, and he tells Noah as much. In response, Noah points to his phone and the cobalt it takes to make it—mined through child labor and subject to deep corruption. “Oil is nothing, man,” Noah says. “We’re all greedy. No one really cares.”
There’s some truth in that—not just when it comes to the environment, but in all aspects of our lives. All of us can get pretty high and mighty about certain issues, conveniently ignoring the logs in our own eyes. The world is a complex place filled with complex issues, and we should approach them with humility as well as conviction.
The movie itself could be seen as an example of that. It’d be really easy to dismiss Endangered Species for any number of reasons: its wall-to-wall language issues; its sometimes cringe-y family dynamics; its almost comical setup; its paint-by-numbers plot. When Noah says that no one really cares, a cynical critic might wonder whether anyone cared that much about this movie—either about the final product or the audience watching it.
But even simple bits of entertainment are not always so simple. This one, despite its many flaws, offers some nice thoughts on family and what it means to be a father. And that’s worth acknowledging—even as we wisely move past this film to better fare.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.