Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violence, Sexuality/Nudity and Drug Use
(Danish with English subtitles)
Directed by: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Written by: Rasmus Birch
Starring: Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter & Mads Riisom
I’d been hearing buzz about WHEN ANIMALS DREAM for little over a year. Ever since the positive reviews flowed out of Cannes 2014 comparing this film to LET THE RIGHT ONE IN for werewolves, I was hoping for something special. As is the case for most critically acclaimed foreign horror films, it took an aggravatingly long time for ANIMALS to finally hit US shores. At long last, the film is available on VOD and hits home video at the end of the month. Having finally sat through this Danish horror-drama, it didn’t disappoint. This is something special and unique. It stands among my favorite horror movies of the year thus far.
Marie has spent her nineteen years of life growing up in a small fishing village with her father and comatose mother. Something strange has begun occurring in her body though. A mysterious rash has appeared on her chest and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. This odd, seemingly benign, medical issue doesn’t stop Marie from taking a job at a fish processing plant. As the days pass on, Marie begins a relationship with one of her co-workers, the handsome and kind Daniel, and her rash begins to worsen. This is all happening to the concern of Marie’s father. Soon enough, Marie discovers that she’s inherited a monstrous genetic curse from her mother and things take a dangerous turn.
I don’t want to spoil much about this wonderful film, because it plays out more like a drama than a horror movie. The deliberately paced story might throw off viewers who go in expecting non-stop carnage and scares. However, I loved this movie. Sonia Suhl puts in an amazing performance as Marie and easily gains the viewer’s sympathies. Even when things spiral into a bloody tailspin, I couldn’t help but root for her and hope she’d make it out of her horrifying ordeal alive…even if that meant other people might have to die. Marie isn’t the only compelling character here though, because we also get Lars Mikkelsen (Mads’s older brother) as her father. His performance was just as heart wrenching as Suhl’s. Though he isn’t exactly the main focus, Mikkelsen delivers one of the most powerful scenes in the entire film. Jakob Oftebro is wholly likable as Daniel, a great character/love-interest who earns every ounce of love thrown his way.
What’s most impressive about WHEN ANIMALS DREAM is how radically different it is from any other werewolf movie out there. Most of this subgenre is made up of gory kills and painful transformations. There’s nothing wrong with that, but WHEN ANIMALS DREAM takes a more high-end approach to a traditional story. Marie’s transformation is still painful to watch, it’s downright agonizing at points, but the pain comes from watching a character who we deeply care about suffering from a genetic affliction (in this case, becoming a werewolf). The drama takes the main focus, but doesn’t at all distract from the horror at hand. There are bloody kills in this film and a number of creepy moments. However, they are all slowly built to, thus having more of an impact upon arrival. The coastal location where this was shot looks stunning and the powerful score that lends to the beauty of every scene.
Besides being both a creepy werewolf story and a beautiful coming-of-age tale, WHEN ANIMALS DREAM also manages to cram a lot of small-town tension into its plot. I found the townsfolk, who have a hard time hiding their hatred towards Marie and her family, to be far more frightening than the supposed monster in this monster movie. When we do see a fully transformed werewolf, the look is a little unique and borders on being cheesy. However, WHEN ANIMALS DREAM manages to do exactly what LET THE RIGHT ONE IN accomplished by putting a compelling modern, humanizing spin on a centuries-old monster.
If I have any complaints about WHEN ANIMALS DREAM, it’s that the film is short. I wish it ran at two hours, so I had more time to revel in this beautiful story and soak everything in. Serving as the most beautiful werewolf film we’ve ever received, WHEN ANIMALS DREAM is more of a drama than a horror movie. That should be stated up front. However, that doesn’t lessen the heartbreaking and emotional impact this movie stores. WHEN ANIMALS DREAM is definitely something special and should be viewed by horror fans seeking something out of the ordinary.