When Animals Dream marks Jonas Alexander Arnby’s feature film debut and it’s a fascinating low budget effort that meanders through a slow-burning story of acceptance from within. Monsters have been crawling throughout cinematic history for a very long time, especially that of the werewolf variety, so standing out from the pack has never been harder. And that’s what makes Arnby’s When Animals Dream find a special place in the genre, because while it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s a unique enough approach that propels an age old monster forward. This coming-of-age tale follows 16-year-old Marie, who hides a terrifying secret and deadly consequences for the unwary.
When Animals Dream is ultimately about embracing change and not letting anyone hold you back from being who you really are. It’s an interesting take on the genre and one that will no doubt divide its audience because the violence isn’t the point, it’s just a product of what she really is. With that in mind, you have to go into Arnby’s monster movie with the right expectations, otherwise you’ll be getting a much different movie than you’re expecting.
It’s a slow-moving, quiet little film that allows its visuals and atmosphere do most of the talking, all with the sense of dread and despair lurking in the background. Again, the movie is very much about a young girl coming to terms with who she really is, the werewolf angle is just as symbol of change and what’s to come. And that’s why Arnby never resorts to telling his story with too much violence, rather he allows the film to build towards and inevitable conclusion, and it’s one that really allows the violence to feel justified.
But as most change goes, it’s often hard to grasp something you can’t control. Marie very much struggles with her identity, acting out against her father and those around her despite the fact that she knows just how dangerous she’s becoming. And this is where her character becomes an interesting force within the narrative, because while she’s certainly the protagonist, she quickly becomes an antagonist to herself. It’s a bold move to turn a main character into a monster right in front of the audience, but Arnby smartly gives us a handful of shitty humans to take the brunt of Marie’s outburst, still giving us a reason to cheer for her. I like that.
What few shortcomings there are in When Animals Dream unfortunately have a pretty big impact on the film’s finale. It develops this almost forced love story between Marie and her co-worker Daniel, who up until the film’s final moments only spent one intimidate night together. Before that night, however, they hardly knew each other. We’re supposed to buy the idea of this guy risking everything–mostly his life–to help a girl he barely just met; a girl that is quite literally a monster, at that. Like I said, it’s a small hiccup in the film, it’s just one that comes at the wrong time.
Arnby’s feature debut is as promising as one can get, offering up a unique coming-of-age story with the heart of a monster. It’s a subtle story, one that quietly walks through a gloomy village with secrets and death waiting to be revealed. It’s not the monster movie you’re expecting, but that’s just part of its charm.
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