When Animals Dream

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/02/14 06:31:36

"Another young woman whose body is going through some interesting changes."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL; Lychanthropy is not entirely a metaphor for adolescence in "When Animals Dream", but there's not much escaping that aspect even if you'd want to. It's an engrossing take on the concept that really picks up stream as it goes along.

We meet Marie (Sonia Suhl) at the doctor's office, complaining about a strange rash. It seems to be nothing, certainly not as serious as her mother, confined to a wheelchair with severe enough motor issues that Marie and her father Thor must feed and dress her. Marie has also just started a job at a fish-packing plant, and the normal hazing is made more intense when she doesn't return the affection of Esben, preferring Daniel, and when Esben lashes out... Well, things start to get hairy.

Director Jonas Alexander Arnby has made a beautiful movie; the opening shots of landscapes covered in something between mist and fog establish just the right atmosphere of isolation and mystery. Arnby and cinematographer Niels Thastum do a good job of giving this fishing town a definite feel, with the sea and the hills giving it bounds and helicopter shots quietly pointing out the houses and boats in neat rows. The light is always dim and cool, adding a little extra tension and loneliness to Marie's life.

It's imagery that goes well with the sort of slow burn Arnby and writer Rasmus Birch set up. It could sometimes stand to move a bit more quickly at times, although there's nothing that wants taking out. Birch and Arnby plant a lot of seeds during that time, though, digging into both the usual areas of youthful turmoil and others the genre doesn't always touch upon, from the usual changes in one's body to medication to how owning your differences can just make you a bigger target. The filmmakers make their case quietly, but effectively.

Having apparent newcomer Sonia Suhl in the lead is a big boost for telling Marie's story. She plays Marie as quiet but with a sharp gaze, able to say a lot with relatively few words. She's immensely appealing even when the character is being difficult, and while she handles shyness well, she's also pretty great when the script calls for Marie to take ownership of what she is, projecting a great air of defiance that mixes well with the inexperience the character projects.

She can get her point across through a few layers of make-up as well, which comes in handy later on. Arnby does not forget what sort of genre he's playing in, and while the times when the animal comes out aren't exactly money shots, they're personal and intense, very much a reflection of the one transforming. The makeup (and CGI) is pretty good for a relatively small production, giving Suhl room to perform rather than creating a completely inhuman creature (which seems more leonine than wolf-like, for what that's worth).

"When Animals Dream" isn't a new idea, but it's a good one executed well, a fine entry into the were canon.

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