Not all horror films are created equally. Some go for that visceral gut-punch of arterial spray, while others aim to showcase the horrors of the human condition. Both approaches can be equally effective, but much like beauty, the effectiveness is in the eye of the beholder. “When Animals Dream” falls into the latter category, with not much viscera to be found. That’s OK, for what it lacks in the gory, it makes up for in the beauty. “When Animals Dream” is currently available on DVD and Netflix.
“When Animals Dream” has been on the festival circuit for close to two years now, and it was the latter part of 2014 when this writer first caught wind of it. Hailing all the way from Denmark, Animals paints a bleak picture of life in the place that routinely claims to have the “happiest populace on earth”. This film screened at The Stanley Film Festival in the early part of 2015, and a scheduling conflict prevented me from catching it until recently. Full disclosure, this film walks a fine line between horror and drama, and is actually more of a coming of age story than anything else. If it weren’t for some light lycanthropy, it wouldn’t be horror at all. I know what your thinking…coming of age…werewolves…sounds a bit like “Teen Wolf”? Aside from the premise, the similarities end there. I found this film to be a remarkably fresh take on the werewolf mythos, and a nice change to see the affliction from a female perspective. If blood is what you’re after, keep moving.
Our story opens as Marie (Sonia Suhl) takes a job at the local fish processing plant. She has a mysterious way about her, and her male co-workers take notice almost immediately. Some of the men act like gentlemen, while others act like 80’s construction workers complete with whistling and catcalls. All of them are after her attention. Marie keeps to herself mostly, with the occasional getting-to-know you conversation. After some light hazing of being pushed into a neck deep dumpster of fish guts, Marie begins to gain the acceptance of some of her co-workers and is considered part of the team. However, not everyone is nice to Marie, and several of the men at the plant begin vying for her affection. The men approach her with varying degrees competition and assertiveness. Some of these advances begin to border on sexual assault, and hardly seem to be in good fun. This hazing happens until Marie starts to undergo some “changes”. These changes may prove fatal for anyone who pushes too far.
Her father Thor (Lars Mikkelsen), who also cares for his comatose wife, cares for Marie. They live in the idyllic countryside and it seems peaceful. We come to find through some subtle exchanges that Marie’s mother may have suffered from a similar condition once upon a time, and that any changes should be reported immediately. The family physician makes routine house calls, and is very eager to learn about Marie’s health status. It is never spelled out, but it is clear that the town is familiar with some strange occurrences as well as people going missing. So, when things start to go awry, its Marie and her family that is to blame.
What sets “When Animals Dream” apart from the crowd is the matter of fact way in which lycanthropy is treated. It’s seen almost as a medical condition, and although extremely rare, handled as such. In fact the werewolf angle has little bearing on the story as a whole. It actually seems to be more of a metaphor for Marie’s sexual awakening. As her urges grow, and she begins to act on them, her condition gets more pronounced. This film has been compared to “Let The Right One In,” and I can see why. Both films treat the horror elements as catalysts or entry points into larger human drama.
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary or something that my ask you to think a little, this one is for you. “When Animals Dream” is the definition of “art-house horror” and shows you why it was accepted into Cannes and dozens of other prestigious film fests around the world. When normally horror films are swept under the rug, or their existence denied completely. It’s nice to see some crossover, and some horror acceptance now and then.
This film is the feature film debut of Jonas Alexander Arnby, and that makes the film even more impressive. With wonderful direction, character development, and cinematography, it seems as if this director is a seasoned pro. I personally can’t wait to see what his next project will be, and how he grows as a filmmaker. I cannot emphasize how divisive this film has been, especially among horror enthusiasts. But what fun is being a cinephile without a little challenge now and then??